Treatment for Radiation-Related Dry Mouth Could Offer Benefits to Those Outside the Cancer Space

Potentially curative therapies for radiation-related dry mouth aren’t only beneficial for patients with cancer, but others who suffer from dry mouth in general.

For the thousands of people who develop xerostomia (aka dry mouth) as a result of head and neck cancer radiation, a potentially curative new therapy that’s currently being investigated could also offer hope to others that experience this side effect aside from patients with cancer, according to Dr. Randy Kimple.

A radiation oncologist at the UW Carbone Cancer Center, Kimple recently spoke with CURE® about why dry mouth negatively impacts patients and how the treatment he and his team are investigating could help not just cancer survivors, but individuals who take medications or have other conditions that cause dry mouth.


Head and neck cancer affects 60,000 people in the US each year, and about 600,000 people worldwide. Historically, up to 80% of those patients who received radiation developed dry mouth after treatment.

Now, as a radiation oncologist, we have gotten better in how we deliver the radiation over the past 20 years. And so now, it's probably half of the head neck cancer patients who have significant dry mouth to the point that they mention it when you ask them about it, or it's their major long term complaint, after they've completed all their treatment or are cured of their head neck cancer. “(I’m) wonderful, but doc, I still have this dry mouth, I still carry a water bottle with me.”

Frankly, COVID sort of highlighted this in some ways to us, because I had patients who would come in and for a while our hospital wasn't allowing them to bring food into the hospital. And they would come in and the first thing they would say is I need a glass of water because I wasn't allowed to bring my water bottle with me. So, it's a significant issue for the patients who would affect.

Xerostomia, or dry mouth, is also affected by a lot of caused by a lot of other things.

Autoimmune diseases like Sjogren’s syndrome can cause xerostomia, and a lot of medications that people take, (such as) cholesterol medications or blood pressure medications can cause dry mouth as well. So, it's possible that the treatment that we develop for patients who have radiation may be effective treatments for patients who need lifelong high blood pressure medicines and start to develop this as they get older.

It’s not a sure thing, but it's possible that this becomes much more useful for patients than what we initially focused just on patients who received radiation.