The correlation between epidermal growth factor levels in saliva and the severity of oral mucositis during oropharyngeal radiation therapy

Joel B. Epstein*, Meir Gorsky, Antonio Guglietta, Nhu Le, Stephen T. Sonis

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


BACKGROUND. Epidermal growth factor (EGF) is present in biologic fluids, including saliva, and plays a role in maintenance of the epithelial barrier and in healing of damaged mucosa. The purpose of this study was to assess the relation between salivary EGF and the severity of oral mucositis in patients with carcinoma of the head and neck during radiation therapy. METH0DS. Whole resting saliva (WRS) and whole stimulated saliva (WSS) were collected prior to radiation and each week during radiation treatment for 11 men and 7 women. Oral mucositis was evaluated using the National Cancer institute (NCI) scale of 0-4 and the Oral Mucositis Assessment Scale (OMAS), which evaluates the extent of erythema (scale of 0-2) and ulcerations (scale of 0-3) in nine oral sites. The overall OMAS score of 0-45 reflected the mucosal condition. EGF was assayed in the saliva specimens. RESULTS. The total mean radiation dose delivered to the head and neck was 5667 centigrays (cGy) in a mean of 24 fractions. Ulcerative oral mucositis occurred in 94% of patients. The mean OMAS score ranged from 2.83 in the first week of treatment to 14.77 in the fifth week. The mean WRS and WSS volumes decreased significantly from pretreatment to the first week of radiation treatment and then remained stable. A similar pattern was seen for the mean total output of EGF. A significant and negative correlation was found between higher levels of EGF in stimulated saliva and low OMAS score, reflecting less severe erythema and ulceration. A general trend showing that less tissue damage was associated with a higher EGF level in resting saliva also was illustrated. EGF levels were correlated with the OMAS score; however, no correlation was found when assessing the NCI score, which combines tissue damage with function and symptoms in a single score. CONCLUSIONS. Radiation-induced mucositis appeared to be modified by saliva volume, total EGF, and concentration of EGF in the oral environment. Saliva volume and total EGF output decreased significantly in the first weeks of treatment and remained reduced throughout radiation therapy. The findings suggest that higher levels of EGF in saliva, particularly in stimulated saliva, prior to and during radiation treatment may be associated with less severe mucosal damage due to radiation therapy. It is also postulated that human EGF may affect the development and healing of radiation-damaged mucosa. (C) 2000 American Cancer Society.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2258-2265
Number of pages8
Issue number11
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2000


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