Quality of life in long-term survivors of oropharynx carcinoma

Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys. 2002 Nov 1;54(3):742-51. doi: 10.1016/s0360-3016(02)02959-0.


Purpose: To collect data on the health-related quality of life (QOL) of long-term survivors and to determine to what extent QOL might be an appropriate end point in the comparison of treatment options in oropharyngeal carcinoma.

Methods and materials: All patients treated between 1992 and 1998, in two French comprehensive cancer centers, by brachytherapy (BT) +/- external beam radiotherapy (EBRT) or surgery plus RT, or exclusive EBRT for T1-T3 (International Union Against Cancer staging system) oropharynx squamous cell carcinoma, were included. QOL was measured once in disease-free patients at least 2 years after treatment initiation. The European Organization for Research and Treatment of Cancer (EORTC) QLQ-C30 questionnaire and the specific H&N35 module were self-administered by all participating patients. Sociodemographic data were collected using a questionnaire specifically designed for the study. The association between the QOL scores of the various treatment-, disease-, and patient-related variables was performed through bivariate analysis and then by multivariate analysis. The mean QOL scores of the EORTC QLQ-C30 questionnaire were compared with the mean scores in the general population.

Results: Of the 159 eligible patients, 113 agreed to participate (97 men and 16 women, median age 61 years, range 41-83). The initial treatment was EBRT plus BT in 49 patients, surgery plus RT in 27, and EBRT alone in 37. The median follow-up time was 62 months (range 24-110). Compared with the general population, the three scores indicating the most impaired QOL were emotional and social functioning and fatigue. The clinical significance of global QOL impairment was borderline. The physical functioning, role functioning, and pain scores did not significantly differ from those of the general population. In multivariate analysis, the initial treatment had no significant influence on any dimension of QOL, except global QOL and emotional functioning. Surprisingly, surgery plus RT, as the initial treatment, favorably influenced the emotional functioning score and EBRT plus BT negatively influenced the global QOL score. None of these treatment modalities influenced any symptom scales. Patient selection was, at least partially, responsible for these paradoxical results.

Conclusion: The results of this study bring original and useful data about the QOL of long-term survivors of oropharynx carcinoma. In these patients, the QOL was significantly impaired, particularly in its psychosocial dimensions. The level of symptoms and functioning (except global QOL and emotional) was similar whatever the initial treatment. These results suggest the importance of coping processes. In a trial comparing treatment options from a long-term perspective, survival remains the most relevant end point, and a QOL evaluation should be a secondary end point. More prospective studies on QOL in head-and-neck cancer patients are needed to determine new strategies for rehabilitation management.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / mortality
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / radiotherapy*
  • Disease-Free Survival
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • France
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Oropharyngeal Neoplasms / mortality
  • Oropharyngeal Neoplasms / radiotherapy*
  • Quality of Life*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Survivors*