Acupuncture may reduce negative effects of Head and Neck Cancer treatment

The unpleasant negative effects of treatment for head and neck cancer patients may be relieved by Acupuncture, the ancient Chinese practice.

A recent study found that there was significant reduction in both dry mouth and pain and shoulder dysfunction after neck dissection in patients who received acupuncture.

However, further studies are required to support the potential role of acupuncture, said Dr. David Pfister, the Chief of the Head and Neck Medical Oncology Service, at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York City.

Neck dissection (removal of the lymph node and surrounding tissue) is a common treatment for head and neck cancers. The dissection could even be severe, involving removal of all lymph nodes, and muscles involved in turning the head, or removal of a nerve or vein that helps patients to lift their arms above their head.

Side effects could vary based on the extent of the procedure. Pain and shoulder dysfunction are common following a neck resection. Although anti-inflammatory drugs are prescribed to address pain and dysfunction, postoperative radiation could lead to dry mouth, and several other symptoms.

For the study, Out of 70 patients, acupuncture sessions for four weeks were administered at random, while the others were given the usual care involving physical therapy exercises and anti-inflammatory pain relievers.

About 40 percent of participants receiving acupuncture, showed improvements in pain and mobility, as against a mere 7 percent in the usual care group. Also, it was found that there was a considerable decrease in dry mouth. About five people in the acupuncture group showed improvements, as against none in the usual care group.