Salivary Gland Hypofunction and Xerostomia in Head and Neck Radiation Patients

Siri Beier Jensen, Arjan Vissink, Kirsten H. Limesand, Mary E. Reyland

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

119 Scopus citations


Background: The most manifest long-term consequences of radiation therapy in the head and neck cancer patient are salivary gland hypofunction and a sensation of oral dryness (xerostomia). Methods: This critical review addresses the consequences of radiation injury to salivary gland tissue, the clinical management of salivary gland hypofunction and xerostomia, and current and potential strategies to prevent or reduce radiation injury to salivary gland tissue or restore the function of radiation-injured salivary gland tissue. Results: Salivary gland hypofunction and xerostomia have severe implications for oral functioning, maintenance of oral and general health, and quality of life. Significant progress has been made to spare salivary gland function chiefly due to advances in radiation techniques. Other strategies have also been developed, e.g., radioprotectors, identification and preservation/expansion of salivary stem cells by stimulation with cholinergic muscarinic agonists, and application of new lubricating or stimulatory agents, surgical transfer of submandibular glands, and acupuncture. Conclusion: Many advances to manage salivary gland hypofunction and xerostomia induced by radiation therapy still only offer partial protection since they are often of short duration, lack the protective effects of saliva, or potentially have significant adverse effects. Intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT), and its next step, proton therapy, have the greatest potential as a management strategy for permanently preserving salivary gland function in head and neck cancer patients. Presently, gene transfer to supplement fluid formation and stem cell transfer to increase the regenerative potential in radiation-damaged salivary glands are promising approaches for regaining function and/or regeneration of radiation-damaged salivary gland tissue.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberlgz016
JournalJournal of the National Cancer Institute - Monographs
Issue number53
StatePublished - Aug 1 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


Dive into the research topics of 'Salivary Gland Hypofunction and Xerostomia in Head and Neck Radiation Patients'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this