Medline: 7852133

International Journal of Radiation Oncology, Biology, Physics 31(3): 661-669, 1995.

Oral pilocarpine for radiation-induced xerostomia: integrated efficacy and safety results from two prospective randomized clinical trials.

Rieke JW, Hafermann MD, Johnson JT, et al.


Pilocarpine hydrochloride administered in either a fixed-dose or in a dose-titration protocol three times a day for 12 weeks was evaluated for its ability to relieve symptoms of postradiation xerostomia and to improve saliva production. The studies were randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, multicenter clinical trials. A total of 369 patients who had received at least 40 Gy of radiation to the head and neck with clinically significant xerostomia were enrolled in the two studies. In the dose-titration study, 162 patients were enrolled and they received a thrice daily regimen of 2.5 mg tablets for first 4 weeks, 5.0 mg tablets for the second 4 weeks, and 10.0 mg tablets for last 4 weeks of a 12-week study. Patients in the titration study were allowed to down titrate following at least one dose escalation to alleviate bothersome side effects, if any. In the fixed dose study, 207 patients received either placebo, 5.0 mg, or 10.0 mg tablets t.i.d. for 12 weeks.

AND MATERIALS: Patients were evaluated for symptomatic relief by responding to questionnaires using visual analog scales and categorical questions; and, for saliva production by sialometry. Questionnaires measured relief of intraoral dryness, improvement in overall condition (global response), oral discomfort, difficulty in speaking, chewing and swallowing, denture wearing, and usage of artificial saliva. Evaluations were conducted at baseline, and weeks 4, 8, and 12.

There were statistically significant improvements in salivary flow in pilocarpine treatment groups vs. placebo. There was a significant improvement in the overall "global" condition of xerostomia associated with the use of pilocarpine in both studies. In the fixed-dose study, there were significant improvements in oral dryness, mouth comfort, ability to speak, and reduction in the use of oral comfort agents. The dose-titration study showed improvements in dryness that approached significance (p = 0.057) and a decreased use of oral comfort agents (p = 0.045). All pilocarpine dosages (2.5, 5.0, and 10.0 mg three times a day) were judged to be safe. Adverse experiences were those expected for a cholinergic agonist, with the most common being mild to moderate sweating. The incidence of these events increased by dose.

It is concluded that in these studies pilocarpine produced clinically significant benefits with acceptable side effects and risks for the treatment of symptomatic postradiation xerostomia. The incidence of most adverse events increased with dose. Best results may require continuous treatment for more than 8 weeks with doses greater than 2.5 mg three times a day. A 5.0 mg thrice daily regimen produced the best clinical results when both efficacy and side effects were taken into consideration. There may be some patients who would experience some additional benefit by increasing the dose to 10 mg thrice daily.

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