Purpose: To evaluate long-term changes in health related quality of life (HRQOL) in oral/oropharyngeal cancer survivors and their need for and use of supportive care.
Methods: Between 1999 and 2001, 80 advanced oral or oropharyngeal cancer patients treated with free-flap reconstruction and postoperative radiotherapy were included in a prospective study of whom 27 patients were long-term survivors (mean 9.2 years, range 8-11 years). The HRQOL of 26 patients (response rate 96%) was assessed with the EORTC QLQ-C30 and QLQ-H&N35 questionnaires at four points in time: pretreatment (baseline), and at 6 months, 12 months (short term) and 8-11 years (long-term) follow up. A study specific questionnaire was developed to evaluate the need for and use of supportive care (allied health services, peer contact, psychosocial care, and complementary care) and was completed at the period of treatment and at long-term follow up.
Results: A number of HRQOL domains worsened significantly (p < 0.01) in the long-term: emotional functioning, social functioning, swallowing, speech, taste/smell, dry mouth, sticky saliva and coughing assessed by the mixed effects statistical model. At time of treatment, the need for supportive care was the highest for a dental hygienist (77%), a physical therapist (73%), a speech therapist (42%), a dietician (38%), and a special diet (62%). At long-term follow up, the need for supportive care was limited to a dental hygienist (46%) and a physical therapist (23%). Only small differences were observed between the perceived need for and actual use of supportive care.
Conclusion: A range of HRQOL domains in head and neck cancer survivors were deteriorated in the long-term compared to baseline and to the first year after treatment. At time of treatment and less frequently at long-term follow up, patients reported needing and using a variety of supportive care services.
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