Goals: Malnutrition in the head and neck cancer population is a widely recognized factor contributing to negative outcomes. The goal of this study was to determine if providing complimentary oral nutritional supplementation for patients undergoing definitive radiation therapy for oropharyngeal carcinoma reduced weight loss and the need for percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy (PEG) tube placement.
Materials and methods: The data from 79 patients undergoing radiotherapy for oropharyngeal cancer were extracted and analyzed retrospectively from an institutional Human Investigation Committee approved database for the study of advanced radiation therapy techniques for head and neck cancer. Forty patients were treated before the initiation of a nutritional supplementation program, and 39 patients received supplementation. Patients were stratified by type of treatment (radiation alone or chemoradiation) and whether or not they had a PEG tube.
Results: All patient groups receiving supplementation manifested a significant decrease in weight loss compared to those who did not receive it. Nutritional supplementation was associated with a 40% relative reduction in weight loss in patients treated with radiotherapy alone (6.1 vs 10.1%, p = 0.008) and a 37% reduction in weight loss in patients treated with chemoradiotherapy (6.7 vs 10.7%, p = 0.007). When patients were stratified by the presence or absence of a PEG tube, both groups experienced a 39% relative reduction in weight loss (with PEG, 5.7 vs 9.3%, p = 0.028; without PEG, 6.9 vs 11.2%, p = 0.002). Supplementation was associated with a decreased need for PEG tube placement (31% decreased to 6%) in patients treated with radiotherapy alone.
Conclusions: Providing complimentary oral nutritional supplementation significantly decreases weight loss and the need for PEG tube placement in patients undergoing radiation therapy for oropharyngeal cancer.