Objectives: To determine 10-year quality-of-life (QOL) in head and neck cancer patients and to examine the potential predictors of late QOL.
Design: Prospective 10-year (QOL) assessment in a cohort of head and neck cancer patients.
Setting: Tertiary referral head and neck cancer centre in Auckland, New Zealand.
Participants: Two hundred patients diagnosed and were treated for head and neck cancer. Exclusion criteria were blindness, learning difficulties or inability to understand or read English.
Main outcome measures: Quality-of-life at 10 years measured by Auckland QOL questionnaire, and analysed for associations with the following co-variates: age, gender; co-morbidities (alcohol intake and smoking), type and stage of disease; treatment modality; and QOL measures.
Results: At 10 years following diagnosis, overall QOL (life satisfaction), decreased significantly by an average of 11% (95% CI: −5, −17) compared with before treatment, and by 15% when compared with years 1 and 2. Pre-treatment QOL significantly predicted late QOL, whilst QOL 1 year after treatment did not. None of the socio-demographic, disease- or treatment-related factors predicted long-term QOL on univariate analysis, but this may be due to the small sample size.
Conclusions: This observed, late drop in the QOL of head and neck cancer patients requires further corroboration and investigation. Due to small sample sizes associated with long-term studies in head and neck cancer cohorts, studies of predictors of long-term QOL will only be likely to succeed if done as multi-centre studies. As there is some evidence to suggest that psychosocial interventions improve the QOL of head and neck cancer patients, it may be appropriate to consider screening for risk of a late deterioration in QOL in order to plan appropriate psycho-social intervention.