Objectives To evaluate the health-related quality of life (HRQL) of patients with head and neck cancer during and after treatment with radiotherapy, surgery, and chemotherapy.
Study Design Prospective, descriptive study.
Methods All new patients in four institutions in Norway and Sweden were asked to participate. Health-related quality of life was assessed at baseline and at 1, 2, 3, 6, and 12 months after start of treatment by means of the European Organization for Research and Treatment of Cancer (EORTC) Core Quality of Life Questionnaire and the EORTC head and neck cancer–specific questionnaire. Baseline results are described elsewhere; longitudinal results are presented in the current article. Three hundred fifty-seven patients with cancer in the oral cavity, pharynx, larynx, nose, sinuses, and salivary glands and neck node metastases from unknown primaries filled in the questionnaires at baseline.
Results Seventy-eight percent of the patients who were alive after 12 months filled in all questionnaires (218/280). The general trend was that HRQL deteriorated significantly during treatment, followed by a slow recovery until the 12-month follow-up with few exceptions (senses, dry mouth, and sexuality). Patients who later died reported worse HRQL at each assessment point compared with patients who filled in all six questionnaires, whereas those who dropped out of the study for other reasons were quite similar to patients who filled in all questionnaires. The patients with pharyngeal cancer in general reported worse HRQL compared with the other groups and did not reach pretreatment values in several domains. Stage was also an important factor for HRQL in patients with head and neck cancer.
Conclusion Detailed knowledge about the differences between groups and changes over time may aid us in the communication with patients and in the design of intervention studies focusing on improvement of the support and rehabilitation of patients with head and neck cancer.