Long-term health-related quality of life in survivors of head and neck cancer

Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2012 Feb;138(2):123-33. doi: 10.1001/archoto.2011.234. Epub 2012 Jan 16.


Objective: To examine health-related quality of life (HRQOL) reported by 5-year head and neck cancer survivors and factors that predicted these long-term scores.

Design: Prospective, observational outcomes study.

Setting: Tertiary care institution.

Patients: A total of 337 patients diagnosed as having head and neck carcinoma between January 1995 and December 2004, who enrolled in the Outcomes Assessment Project and survived at least 5 years.

Interventions: While participating in the longitudinal Outcomes Assessment Project, patients filled out surveys measuring HRQOL at numerous points in time.

Main outcome measures: Outcomes included 5-year scores in eating, speech, aesthetics, social disruption, physical and mental health, depressive symptoms, and overall quality of life (QOL). In addition to analyzing patients' 5-year HRQOL outcomes, multivariate analyses were performed to determine which patient, clinical, treatment, and 1-year HRQOL factors independently predicted these 5-year outcomes.

Results: Overall, the cohort's long-term general health was similar to that to age-matched norms from the general population. But over 50% of these survivors had problems eating, 28.5% reported depressive symptoms, and 17.3% reported substantial pain. At long-term follow-up, 13.6% continued to smoke, and 38.9% used alcohol. Multivariate analyses demonstrated that 1-year pain and diet were the strongest independent predictors of 5-year HRQOL outcomes.

Conclusions: Eating problems due to poor oropharyngeal functioning and persistent pain are the most prevalent problems that these survivors face. Early interventions addressing eating issues, swallowing problems, and pain management will be a crucial component in improving this patient population's long-term QOL, especially in those who are functioning poorly 1 year after diagnosis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / complications*
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prospective Studies
  • Quality of Life*
  • Regression Analysis
  • Survivors / psychology*