There has always been a clear difference between the West's high-tech approach to medicine, compared to the East's more “natural” approach
. . . and many people who prefer one type of medical treatment usually do not combine it with the other style. It seems that the tides are turning, however. Recently, Western medicine has been adopting "alternative" medical techniques to help make its own techniques to be more effective.
One of these alternative approaches, acupuncture
, involves treating patients for various conditions by inserting long, thin needles into the body through specific acupuncture points that, as traditional Chinese medicine claims, are all connected by special channels known as meridians
. A recent study has proven the effectiveness of acupuncture when used to treat chronic dry mouth in patients who suffer from head and neck cancer.
The report, which was published recently in the online journal Cancer
, was a joint effort by the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and Fudan University Shanghai Cancer Center. The research found that when used alongside radiation therapy, acupuncture significantly reduces xerostomia
, a debilitating side effect of the radiation used to combat head and neck cancer. Xerostomia, also known as severe dry mouth, causes reduced salivary flow, which creates difficulties in eating, speaking and sleeping, and increases the risk of developing oral infections.
While there have been numerous smaller studies that cross-examined the effects of acupuncture on xerostomia, this study serves as the first fully randomized, controlled trial that focused on acupuncture's potential for preventing xerostomia. For the clinical trials, Lorenzo Cohen, Ph.D., a professor in MD Anderson's Departments of General Oncology and Behavioral Science who is also the director of the Integrative Medicine Program, worked alongside his colleagues to examine 86 patients that suffered from nasopharyngeal carcinoma.
These patients were treated at Fudan University Shanghai Cancer Center, and were randomly split into two groups; one group contained 40 patients that would undergo acupuncture, and the second group contained the remaining 46 patients that were to receive standard treatment. The first group received acupuncture therapy three times per week, every week during the seven week radiotherapy course. Each group was then evaluated before radiotherapy, weekly during radiotherapy, and again one and six months later.
Results showed up as early as three weeks into the radiotherapy course, where the group who underwent acupuncture reported significant reduction of xerostomia, as well as other cancer-related symptoms
that impeded quality of life. The saliva flow rates of these patients were also considerably improved, as compared to the group who received standard care.
Further research is planned, including a much larger clinical study involving 150 patients, but this could mark the beginning of a cultural shift from using only one style of medicine to that of incorporating various techniques from all over the world.