Effect of Comorbidity on Quality of Life and Treatment Selection in Patients with Squamous Cell Carcinoma of the Head and Neck


  • Presented at the Southern Section Meeting of the Triological Society, Miami, FL, January 14 to 15, 2005.


Objectives: Comorbidity is significantly associated with diminished survival and quality of life (QOL) after treatment of head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC). We sought to determine whether comorbidity influenced pretreatment QOL scores and treatment selection in patients with HNSCC.

Methods: The medical records of all patients diagnosed with HNSCC who participated in pretreatment QOL analysis over a 15-month period were retrospectively reviewed. Patients with a history of prior treatment for head and neck cancer, unresectable, or distant metastatic disease were excluded. The University of Washington (UW) QOL questionnaire, Performance Status Scale (PSS), and Karnofsky score were used to measure pretreatment QOL. Comorbidity was graded using the Modified Medical Comorbidity Index.

Results: Of 75 patients who met study criteria, 33 underwent primary surgical therapy, and 42 underwent nonoperative (radiation or chemoradiation) therapy. Treatment groups did not differ with respect to patient demographics, UW QOL scores, PSS scores, Karnofsky score, or comorbidity. Treatment groups differed significantly by disease stage and primary site. Patients with advanced stage disease (III/IV) or oropharyngeal primary tumors were more likely to undergo nonoperative treatment, compared with patients with early stage disease (I/II) or oral cavity primary tumors (P < .005). No significant association was found between comorbidity and pretreatment QOL scores.

Conclusions: Comorbidity was not significantly associated with treatment selection or pretreatment QOL scores in patients with HNSCC. Location of the primary tumor and disease stage were significantly associated with treatment selection. Further studies are required to determine the effect of comorbidity on patient and tumor responses to treatment.