Researchers Look for Solution for Dry Mouth in Cancer Patients



There may be a solution for preventing xerostomia.

Xerostomia, which is a dry mouth from a lack of saliva, often impacts patients with throat or mouth cancer. A new study indicates that submandibular gland transfer may stop xerostomia, which often is a side effect from radiation.

Xerostomia is a problem because it develops when the salivary glands stop working. University of Alberta researcher Jana Rieger compared xerostomia to what it feels like after undergoing surgery and the anesthesia. The problem with xerostomia is that it’s permanent.

This problem becomes a larger issue when the person’s cancer is in remission. The salivary glands produce the saliva that keep a person’s teeth and mouth healthy. Without saliva, people may lose their teeth or have trouble swallowing or speaking.

The study was conducted by Jana Rieger, a speech language pathologist in the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine at the University of Alberta. Rieger analyzed all aspects of the functional outcomes after patients received two types of treatments before and after undergoing radiation.

The first group underwent the submandibular gland transfer, while the second took salagen, an oral drug. Submandibular gland transfer moves the saliva gland from under the angle of the jaw to the chin.

The research showed that the two methods had the same impact regarding a person’s ability to speak.

When it came to swallowing, however, that’s where the difference was. The people who took the submandibular gland transfer had a much easier time than the people who took salagen. That means when eating, a person has to drink a lot more to finish the meal and the person may have difficulty eating hot food. The result is more bathroom trips and possibly avoiding social settings involving a meal.

This study was published in the April issue of Head & Neck.