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Radiation Therapy Linked to Dry Mouth in Elderly Patients with Head and Neck Cancers

Head and neck cancer may be treated by a combination of radiation therapy (RT) and chemotherapy, in addition to surgery.

A common side effect associated with RT for tumors arising in the head and neck region is xerostomia (dry mouth), a potentially serious post-treatment complication that can affect speech, chewing, and swallowing, and lead to gum infections, cavities, and loss of teeth.

New research shows elderly patients receiving RT either with or without chemotherapy had a higher cumulative incidence of developing xerostomia than those who had neither RT nor chemotherapy.

The risk of xerostomia was regardless of tumor stage at presentation, anatomic primary tumor site, and whether primary cancer treatment included surgery. It was higher in some subgroups of patients, namely in women with distant stage disease or in those with poorly differentiated localized tumors.

The risk of xerostomia was lower in patients 80 years or older with the anatomic tumor site at the salivary gland.

For details, see Liu, C-C. et al. (2011). Risk of xerostomia in association with the receipt of radiation therapy in older patients with head and neck cancer. American Journal of Therapeutics, 18, 206-215.

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