People who have head and neck cancer and undergo radiation treatments usually suffer from permanent damage to their salivary glands. The damage can lead to an in ability to make any saliva, the loss of all their teeth and other major consequences for everyday life.
Scientists may have discovered a way to prevent this harm. They are currently conducting a clinical trial to test their work.
A half-million patients worldwide with head and neck cancer undergo radiotherapy annually. About 40% of patients who undergo these treatments suffer from major damage to their salivary glands.
The damage making speaking and eating painful and causes people to wake up and drink multiple times during the night which leads to severe fatigue.
The severity of the dry-mouth syndrome that patients experienced after treatment was linked to the level of radiation they previously received to these ducts.
Modern radiotherapy techniques use precisely aimed blasts of radiation, in an effort to reduce side effect. However researchers have limited understanding of how to prevent dry mouth syndrome because it isn’t clear how radiation causes this problem.
Researchers suspected that stem cells inside the parotid glands could help the glands regenerate after being damages so that patients salivate normally again. However, until now it was unknown where the stem cells were specifically located.
Scientists have started a double-blind clinical trial to see how well their strategy to prevent dry-mouth syndrome works. It is expected that the trial will be completed in two or three years.