Quality of life research in head and neck cancer: a review of the current state of the science

Crit Rev Oncol Hematol. 2007 Jun;62(3):251-67. doi: 10.1016/j.critrevonc.2006.07.005. Epub 2007 Apr 3.


Quality of life (QOL) has become an increasingly important outcome measure for patient's undergoing treatment for a wide array of illnesses. QOL is a global construct that reflects a patient's general sense of well being. It is by definition multi-dimensional and reflective of the patient's point of view. Health related issues are among the many factors that may influence QOL. Since head and neck cancer (HNC) affects structures that are critical for normal functions such as speech and swallowing, and treatment may lead to deformities that adversely impact psychosocial functioning, there is particular interest in assessing QOL in this cohort of patients. In order to interpret the HN QOL literature, it is important to have an understanding of the significance and limitations of QOL assessments in the head and neck patient population as well as an appreciation for the currently available measurement tools. Unfortunately, the HNC QOL literature has many limitations including: small sample size, lack of prospective data and poor study design. None-the-less, important insights can be obtained by review of the current literature. First, it is important that QOL studies be reported in such a way as to provide clinically meaningful data to clinicians. Linking measurements with clinical benchmarks is one way to accomplish this goal. In addition, both general and HNC specific measures are needed in order to provide a comprehensive assessment of global health and tumor specific issues. In general, QOL declines immediately after therapy and returns toward baseline by 1 year. Several factors have been identified that may predict for worse QOL outcomes including: the presence of a feeding tube, co-morbid disease, tracheotomy, site and stage. Data correlating QOL with functional outcome and symptom burden fails to demonstrate a consistent relationship. This may be attributed to methodological issues in study design or the patient's ability to adapt to functional and symptom control problems. Whether routine use of QOL measures in the clinical setting is beneficial to patients has yet to be determined. Further studies are warranted as currently available instruments may not be valid for repeated clinical use.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Data Collection
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / complications
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / therapy
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Quality of Life*
  • Recovery of Function
  • Sickness Impact Profile*
  • Treatment Outcome