A Prospective Study of Quality of Life in Head and Neck Cancer Patients. Part I: At Diagnosis



Purpose A Swedish and Norwegian study was designed to examine health-related quality of life (HQL) in patients with head and neck cancer (head and neck) at diagnosis and during treatment and rehabilitation. The overall aim was to examine the impact on HQL at diagnosis depending on tumor location, stage, sex, and age (part I) and to describe HQL longitudinally and determine for which patients and during which period HQL deteriorated most (part II). This article presents the results at diagnosis.

Method Patients with head and neck cancer at five hospitals in Sweden and Norway were consecutively requested to participate. They were asked to answer the EORTC QLQ-C30 and QLQ-H&N35 (the European Organization for Research and Treatment of Cancer, Core 30 questionnaire and head and neck cancer module) repeatedly during 1 year. A total of 357 patients (mean age, 63 y; 72% males) were included.

Results Patients with different tumor locations all had their special problems at diagnosis, for example, those with tumors in the larynx with communication, those with oral tumors with pain, and those with pharyngeal tumors with nutrition and pain. The patients with hypopharyngeal cancer reported the worst HQL. Stage appeared to have the strongest impact on HQL. Patients with a more advanced tumor stage reported significantly worse HQL scores for 24 of 32 variables reflecting functioning or problems. The females scored worse than the males for some areas, in particular, emotional functioning. The older patients scored significantly better for emotional and social functioning than patients <65 years but worse for physical functioning and various symptoms. The traditional way of grouping the tumor locations into oral, pharyngeal, laryngeal, and “other” tumors (salivary gland, sinus and nose, and unknown primary) was tested from a HQL point of view and found to be consistent.

Conclusions The chosen questionnaires differentiated between different sites of head and neck cancer at diagnosis. Tumor stage had the most powerful impact on HQL score.