A study conducted by Memorial Sloan-Kettering investigators

For many of the more than 100,000 individuals diagnosed with head and neck cancer each year in the United States, the cancer spreads from its primary location to lymph nodes in the neck. When this occurs, nerves known as spinal accessory nerves must also be removed along with the affected lymph node, which can lead to shoulder function problems.

A study conducted by Memorial Sloan-Kettering investigators and published in the April 2010 issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology sought to determine if acupuncture could reduce pain and dysfunction in individuals with cancer of the head or neck who had received a surgical dissection of lymph nodes in their neck. The study evaluated 58 patients who were suffering from chronic pain or dysfunction as a result of neck dissection. For four weeks, study participants were randomly assigned into one of two groups: those receiving weekly acupuncture sessions and those receiving standard care, which included physical therapy, as well as pain and antiinflammatory medication.

The study found that individuals in the group receiving acupuncture experienced significant reductions in pain and dysfunction when compared with individuals receiving standard care. Individuals in the acupuncture group also reported significant improvement in xerostomia, a condition in which patients receiving adjuvant radiation therapy experience extreme dry mouth.

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