The impact of head and neck radiotherapy on salivary flow and quality of life: Results of the ORARAD study

Alexander Lin, Erika S. Helgeson, Nathaniel S. Treister, Brian L. Schmidt, Lauren L. Patton, Linda S. Elting, Rajesh V. Lalla, Michael T. Brennan, Thomas P. Sollecito

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objectives: Salivary hypofunction and xerostomia, are common side effects of radiotherapy, negatively impacting quality of life. The OraRad study presents results on the longitudinal impact of radiotherapy on salivary flow and patient-reported outcomes. Patients and Methods: Prospective, multicenter cohort study of 572 patients receiving curative-intent head and neck radiotherapy (RT). Stimulated salivary flow (SSF) rate and patient-reported outcomes were measured prior to RT and at 6- and 18-months post-RT. Linear mixed effects models examined the relationship between RT dose and change in salivary flow, and change in patient-reported outcomes. Results: 544 patients had baseline salivary flow measurement, with median (IQR) stimulated flow rate of 0.975 (0.648, 1.417) g/min. Average RT dose to parotid glands was associated with change in salivary flow post-RT (p < 0.001). Diminished flow to 37% of pre-RT level was observed at 6 months (median: 0.358, IQR: 0.188 to 0.640 g/min, n = 481) with partial recovery to 59% of pre-RT at 18 months (median: 0.575, IQR: 0.338 to 0.884 g/min, n = 422). Significant improvement in patient-reported swallowing, senses (taste and smell), mouth opening, dry mouth, and sticky saliva (p-values < 0.03) were observed between 6 and 18 months post-RT. Changes in swallowing, mouth opening, dry mouth, and sticky saliva were significantly associated with changes in salivary flow from baseline (p-values < 0.04). Conclusion: Salivary flow and patient-reported outcomes decreased as a result of RT, but demonstrated partial recovery during follow-up. Continued efforts are needed to improve post-RT salivary function to support quality of life.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number105783
JournalOral Oncology
StatePublished - Apr 2022


  • Head and Neck Neoplasms
  • Quality of Life
  • Radiotherapy
  • Xerostomia
  • Prospective Studies
  • Humans
  • Xerostomia/etiology
  • Parotid Gland
  • Saliva
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms/radiotherapy
  • Cohort Studies

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oral Surgery
  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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