A research team in the Department of Oral Medicine at Carolinas Medical Center has received an $8 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to study tissue damage in patients who have received high-dose radiation for head and neck cancer. Hospital officials said it is the largest research grant ever awarded to CMC.
Dr. Michael Brennan, associate chairman of the oral medicine department, will be principal investigator for the Charlotte research site. Patients will also be enrolled at Harvard University, University of Pennsylvania, New York University and the University of Connecticut.
Brennan said the five-year study will help doctors develop evidence-based guidelines for the care of patients’ dental health before or after radiation therapy.
Patients with head and neck cancer often receive high-dose radiation therapy that results in lifelong damage to oral and facial tissues. Side effects include a decrease in saliva production, which increases the risk of tooth decay and tooth loss. Radiation can also impair bone healing, leading to an increased risk of infection around the teeth and increased risk of jaw fractures and pain that could require surgery.
Patients enrolled in the study will receive a standard dental assessment prior to radiation therapy, and follow-up visits will be conducted every six months for up to two years.