An exploration of factors predicting malnutrition in patients with advanced head and neck cancer


  • This study was funded by The Research and Development Council Västra Götaland County, Assar Gabrielssons Fund Foundation, Göteborgs Medical Society, Laryngfonden Foundation, Adlerbertska Foundation. The authors have no other funding, financial relationships, or conflicts of interest to disclose.

Department of Otorhinolaryngology, Sahlgrenska University Hospital, 41345 Gothenburg University, Sweden. E-mail:



Malnutrition is common among head and neck cancer patients and negatively impacts on survival and quality of life. This study aimed to identify predictors of malnutrition at time of diagnosis in order to identify patients at risk and enable early nutritional support and prevent malnutrition.

Materials and Method

A total of 134 patients with advanced oral and pharyngeal cancer were included in the study. Weight, body mass index (BMI), fat free mass (FFM), dysphagia, and quality of life were measured at diagnosis and after 6 months. Two definitions for malnutrition were applied: >10% weight loss and BMI <20 after 6 months.


Six months after diagnosis, 66% of the patients were malnourished as per the >10% weight loss definition, and 26% of the patients were malnourished as per the BMI < 20 weight loss definition. In multivariate analysis, low BMI followed by low FFM and dysphagia were the strongest predictors for malnutrition using BMI <20. Chemotherapy and high BMI at diagnosis were the strongest predictors of malnutrition using the 10% weight loss definition. For patients treated with chemotherapy, the risk for malnutrition was very high both for patients with normal BMI (67%) and for patients with BMI 30 (89%).


Unintended weight loss more than 10% seems to be the most reasonable definition of malnutrition for identifying predictors of this in head and neck cancer patients. The weight loss correlated significantly to a loss of FFM. Treatment with chemotherapy was a strong predictor, as was a high BMI at time of diagnosis. This is an important finding since overweight patients might not be considered at high risk for developing malnutrition, and consequently nutritional support for them might be delayed. Laryngoscope, 123:2428–2434, 2013