Quality of life (QOL) issues in patients with head and neck carcinoma are of importance beyond the incidence of these tumors because of the impact of the disease and its treatment on external appearance and function of the upper aerodigestive tract. Nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC) patients comprise a unique subgroup in whom, to our knowledge, QOL has not been studied directly.
Adult patients with NPC treated during the past 15 years at the Chaim Sheba Medical Center with a minimum follow-up of 6 months were included in the current study. Patients were mailed the revised University of Washington quality of life (UW-QOL) questionnaire and data pertaining to their disease were recorded. Patients with recurrent disease or another malignancy or those whose present status could not be ascertained were excluded from the study. QOL scores were analyzed based on treatment, disease stage, and patient age.
Twenty-eight patients of 35 disease-free patients (80%) responded to the questionnaire sent to patients meeting the study criteria. The mean score for general health was 3.1 (range, 1–5). Pain was not a significant factor. Other domains without noteworthy problems were speech and shoulder disability. The majority of patients described their appearance as normal or with minor changes, and questions concerning activity, recreation/entertainment, employment, and swallowing all scored > 70 (range, 0–100). Dry mouth, chewing, and ear problems were of major concern with the majority of patients and affected the QOL indices. Nevertheless, the overall mean QOL score of these patients was rated as “good” (4.2 on a scale of 1–6).
In the current study, patients with NPC reported ear problems, difficulties in chewing, and dry mouth but their overall QOL appeared to be good. Ear problems such as secretory otitis media should be recognized at the time of presentation and treated. Conformal radiotherapy techniques sparing the salivary glands and temporal bone most likely will be useful in reducing the morbidity associated with treatment. Cancer 2002;94:1012–7. © 2002 American Cancer Society.