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      Xerostomia induced by radiotherapy: an overview of the physiopathology, clinical evidence, and management of the oral damage

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          The irradiation of head and neck cancer (HNC) often causes damage to the salivary glands. The resulting salivary gland hypofunction and xerostomia seriously reduce the patient’s quality of life.


          To analyze the literature of actual management strategies for radiation-induced hypofunction and xerostomia in HNC patients.


          MEDLINE/PubMed and the Cochrane Library databases were electronically evaluated for articles published from January 1, 1970, to June 30, 2013. Two reviewers independently screened and included papers according to the predefined selection criteria.


          Sixty-one articles met the inclusion criteria. The systematic review of the literature suggests that the most suitable methods for managing the clinical and pathophysiological consequences of HNC radiotherapy might be the pharmacological approach, for example, through the use of cholinergic agonists when residual secretory capacity is still present, and the use of salivary substitutes. In addition, a modified diet and the patient’s motivation to enhance oral hygiene can lead to a significant improvement.


          Radiation-induced xerostomia could be considered a multifactorial disease. It could depend on the type of cancer treatment and the cumulative radiation dose to the gland tissue. A preventive approach and the correct treatment of the particular radiotherapeutic patient can help to improve the condition of xerostomia.

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          Most cited references 62

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          Head and neck cancer.

          Most head and neck cancers are squamous cell carcinomas that develop in the upper aerodigestive epithelium after exposure to carcinogens such as tobacco and alcohol. Human papillomavirus has also been strongly implicated as a causative agent in a subset of these cancers. The complex anatomy and vital physiological role of the tumour-involved structures dictate that the goals of treatment are not only to improve survival outcomes but also to preserve organ function. Major improvements have been accomplished in surgical techniques and radiotherapy delivery. Moreover, systemic therapy including chemotherapy and molecularly targeted agents--namely, the epidermal growth factor receptor inhibitors--has been successfully integrated into potentially curative treatment of locally advanced squamous-cell carcinoma of the head and neck. In deciding which treatment strategy would be suitable for an individual patient, important considerations include expected functional outcomes, ability to tolerate treatment, and comorbid illnesses. The collaboration of many specialties is the key for optimum assessment and decision making. We review the epidemiology, molecular pathogenesis, diagnosis and staging, and the latest multimodal management of squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck.
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            Saliva in health and disease: an appraisal and update.

             Leo Sreebny (2000)
            Saliva plays an important role in oral health monitoring, regulating and maintaining the integrity of the oral hard tissues and some soft tissues. This paper reviews the role of saliva, the prevalence of oral dryness and the consequent importance of salivary flow as well as the relationship between xerostomia and salivary gland hypofunction amongst the causes of oral dryness. Other aspects of oral conditions associated with saliva are also reviewed including Sjögren's Syndrome and oesophageal function. Finally, knowledge, and the current use of salivary tests and the utilisation of saliva as a diagnostic fluid are surveyed.
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              Xerostomia: clinical aspects and treatment.

              Xerostomia or dry mouth is a condition that is frequently encountered in dental practice. The most common cause is the use of certain systemic medications, which make the elderly at greater risk because they are usually more medicated. Other causes include high doses of radiation and certain diseases such as Sjogren's syndrome. Xerostomia is associated with difficulties in chewing, swallowing, tasting or speaking. This results in poor diet, malnutrition and decreased social interaction. Xerostomia can cause oral discomfort, especially for denture wearers. Patients are at increased risk of developing dental caries. A thorough intraoral and extra-oral clinical examination is important for diagnosis. Treatment may include the use of salivary substitutes (Biotene), salivary stimulants such as pilocarpine, ongoing dental care, caries prevention, a review of the current prescription drug regimen and possible elimination of drugs having anticholinergic effects. Because of the ageing population, and the concomitant increase in medicated individuals, dentists can expect to be presented with xerostomia in an increasing number of patients in the coming years and therefore should be familiar with its diagnosis and treatment. Therefore, the purpose of this review is to outline for clinicians the common aetiologies, clinical identification, and routine therapeutic modalities available for individuals with xerostomia.

                Author and article information

                Ther Clin Risk Manag
                Ther Clin Risk Manag
                Therapeutics and Clinical Risk Management
                Therapeutics and Clinical Risk Management
                Dove Medical Press
                04 February 2015
                : 11
                : 171-188
                [1 ]Department of Biomedical Science, University of Sassari, Sassari, Italy
                [2 ]Department of Surgery, Microsurgery and Medicine, University of Sassari, Sassari, Italy
                [3 ]Department of Dental Science, University of Palermo, Palermo, Italy
                Author notes
                Correspondence: Egle Milia, Department of Surgery, Microsurgery and Medicine, University of Sassari, Viale San Pietro 43/c, 07100 Sassari, Italy, Tel +39 079 22 8437, Fax +39 079 27 2645, Email emilia@ 123456uniss.it
                © 2015 Pinna et al. This work is published by Dove Medical Press Limited, and licensed under Creative Commons Attribution – Non Commercial (unported, v3.0) License

                The full terms of the License are available at http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/. Non-commercial uses of the work are permitted without any further permission from Dove Medical Press Limited, provided the work is properly attributed.



                management strategies, radiation-induced xerostomia, salivary gland hypofunction


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