Author | Shannon T. Kahn, BS, MAC


Management of Xerostomia Related to Radiotherapy for Head and Neck Cancer

December 01, 2005

ByShannon T. Kahn, BS, MAC|Peter A. S. Johnstone, MD

Xerostomia is a permanent and devastating sequela of head and neckirradiation, and its consequences are numerous. Pharmaceutical therapyattempts to preserve or salvage salivary gland function through systemicadministration of various protective compounds, most commonlyamifostine (Ethyol) or pilocarpine. When these agents are ineffective orthe side effects too bothersome, patients often resort to palliative care, forexample, with tap water, saline, bicarbonate solutions, mouthwashes, orsaliva substitutes. A promising surgical option is the Seikaly-Jha procedure,a method of preserving a single submandibular gland by surgicallytransferring it to the submental space before radiotherapy. Improved radiationtechniques, including intensity-modulated radiotherapy andtomotherapy, allow more selective delivery of radiation to defined targetsin the head and neck, preserving normal tissue and the salivary glands.Acupuncture may be another option for patients with xerostomia. All ofthese therapies need to be further studied to establish the most effectiveprotocol to present to patients before radiotherapy has begun.