Purpose: To study the risk, outcomes, and costs of radiation-induced oral mucositis (OM) among patients receiving radiotherapy (RT) to head and neck primary cancers.
Methods and materials: A retrospective cohort consisting of 204 consecutive head-and-neck cancer patients who received RT with or without chemotherapy during 2002 was formed; their records were reviewed for clinical and resource use information. Patients who had received prior therapy, had second primary cancers, or received palliative radiation therapy were excluded. The risk of OM was analyzed by multiple variable logistic regression. The cost of care was computed from the provider's perspective in 2006 U.S. dollars and compared among patients with and without OM.
Results: Oral mucositis occurred in 91% of patients; in 66% it was severe (Grade 3-4). Oral mucositis was more common among patients with oral cavity or oropharynx primaries (odds ratio [OR], 44.5; 95% confidence interval [CI], 5.2 to >100; p < 0.001), those who received chemotherapy (OR = 7.8; 95% CI, 1.5-41.6; p = 0.02), and those who were treated with altered fractionation schedules (OR = 6.3; 95% CI, 1.1-35.1; p = 0.03). Patients with OM were significantly more likely to have severe pain (54% vs. 6%; p < 0.001) and a weight loss of > or =5% (60% vs. 17%; p < 0.001). Oral mucositis was associated with an incremental cost of $1700-$6000, depending on the grade.
Conclusions: Head-and-neck RT causes OM in virtually all patients. Oral mucositis is associated with severe pain, significant weight loss, increased resource use, and excess cost. Preventive strategies are needed.