Quality of Life and Head and Neck Cancer: A 5 Year Prospective Study


  • This study was made possible by grants from the Nordic Cancer Union (NF-43258), the Gunnar Nilsson Cancer Foundation, the Swedish Cancer Society, the Gothenburg Medical Society, the King Gustav V Jubilee Clinic Cancer Research Foundation in Gothenburg, the Assar Gabrielsson Foundation, the Norwegian Cancer Society in Oslo, the Swedish Association for Cancer and Traffic Victims (C-24405 and C-35160), and the Cancer Research Fund at the St.Olavs University Hospital in Trondheim Norway.


Objectives: Assessment of health-related quality of life (HRQL) in head and neck cancer patients from diagnosis to 5 years after start of treatment.

Study Design: A prospective, descriptive study

Methods: three hundred fifty-seven patients from Norway and Sweden filled in HRQL questionnaires, the European Organisation for Research and Treatment of Cancer (EORTC) QLQ–C30 and the EORTC QLQ-H&N35, six times during the first year and then after 5 years. At 5 years, 167 (87%) of the 192 living patients filled in questionnaires.

Results: Group data: clinical significant improvements in HRQL were not found between 1 and 5 years. Problems with teeth, opening of the mouth, dryness in the mouth, and sticky saliva were persistent or worsening. Similar findings were found regardless of sex, age, stage, or site when clinical significant changes are considered. Patients who died between 1 and 5 years reported reduced HRQL on 15 of 28 scales at 1 year compared with the survivors. Individual data: 40% of patients reported improved global HRQL from diagnosis to 5 years after start of treatment. In addition, 11% had “top scores” at both assessment points. The pattern in global HRQL scores also applies for most of the other function and symptom scales.

Conclusion: After the first year after treatment, recovery of the persisting side effects of treatment cannot be expected for the group as a whole. Patients must be prepared for this. Some individual patients experience improvement in global HRQL. HRQL assessments in daily clinical practice can identify patients who are in need of additional support and symptom relief.