The role of radiation therapy in the management of sialorrhea

Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys. 1998 Jul 15;41(5):1113-9. doi: 10.1016/s0360-3016(98)00153-9.


Purpose: Sialorrhea is the unintentional loss of saliva and other contents from the mouth. Most patients with this condition are elderly, requiring palliative treatment. These patients have neuropathology with associated poor performance status. Treatment prescribed for this disabling and distressing condition has often been of a surgical nature and described in young patients. It would be inapplicable to the elderly. The aim of this study was to review the role of radiation therapy in the management of sialorrhea. Previous reports are few in number and are cautionary because of adverse effects which have been described, including dryness of the mouth.

Methods and materials: A total of 34 patients were referred to the Department of Radiation Oncology, Palmerston North Hospital, between 1966 and August 1994, of whom only 1 patient received treatment prior to 1985. Three patients declined treatment and were, therefore, excluded from this review. Thirty-one patients, including 14 males and 17 females, of median age 72 years received 1 or more radiation treatments for sialorrhea. The patients were followed up for a median of 12 months, ranging from 6 months to 27 years.

Results: Initially, 82% (28/34) of treatments were associated with a satisfactory response. Six patients relapsed, of whom five experienced relapse within 6 months of initial treatment. Two patients were re-treated, one of whom achieved a complete response. Up to the time of review 64% (23/36) of treatments maintained a satisfactory response. The varied fractionation regimens used were not shown to affect the response rate; low doses were shown to be as effective as higher doses, and were not associated with any significant acute or late side effects. Only 4 patients developed long-term side effects. However, response rates were superior for patients treated with electrons, as opposed to orthovoltage therapy, and in particular when electron energies greater than 7 megavolts were used (76% vs. 38% maintained response, p < 0.05). Responses were also superior for patients treated with radiation fields which encompassed both parotid and submandibular glands (74% vs. 33 % maintained response, p < 0.01).

Conclusions: Radiation therapy has proven to be a safe and effective treatment in this group of patients, thereby avoiding the adverse effects of anticholinergic medication and invasive surgical procedures.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Radiotherapy Dosage
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sialorrhea / radiotherapy*