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Keywords:

  • radiotherapy;
  • head and neck;
  • xerostomia;
  • intensity-modulated radiotherapy

Abstract

A dry mouth or xerostomia is one of the most common complications during and after radiotherapy for head and neck cancer, because irreparable damage is caused to the salivary glands, which are included in the radiation fields. Xerostomia not only significantly impairs the quality of life of potentially cured cancer patients, it may also lead to severe and long-term oral disorders. Because management of xerostomia is rarely effective, prevention is paramount. Several strategies have been developed to avoid radiation-induced salivary dysfunction without compromising definitive oncologic treatment. These include salivary gland-sparing radiation techniques, such as 3-dimensional conformal or intensity-modulated radiotherapy, concomitant cytoprotectants, and surgical salivary gland transfer. However, these preventive approaches are not applicable to all patients, and comprehensive scientific research that incorporates new biological insights is warranted to optimize the therapeutic index of radiotherapy for head and neck cancer. Cancer 2006. © 2006 American Cancer Society.