Nutritional interventions in head and neck cancer patients undergoing chemoradiotherapy: a narrative review

Nutrients. 2015 Jan 5;7(1):265-76. doi: 10.3390/nu7010265.

Abstract

The present review aimed to define the role of nutritional interventions in the prevention and treatment of malnutrition in HNC patients undergoing CRT as well as their impact on CRT-related toxicity and survival. Head and neck cancer patients are frequently malnourished at the time of diagnosis and prior to the beginning of treatment. In addition, chemo-radiotherapy (CRT) causes or exacerbates symptoms, such as alteration or loss of taste, mucositis, xerostomia, fatigue, nausea and vomiting, with consequent worsening of malnutrition. Nutritional counseling (NC) and oral nutritional supplements (ONS) should be used to increase dietary intake and to prevent therapy-associated weight loss and interruption of radiation therapy. If obstructing cancer and/or mucositis interfere with swallowing, enteral nutrition should be delivered by tube. However, it seems that there is not sufficient evidence to determine the optimal method of enteral feeding. Prophylactic feeding through nasogastric tube or percutaneous gastrostomy to prevent weight loss, reduce dehydration and hospitalizations, and avoid treatment breaks has become relatively common. Compared to reactive feeding (patients are supported with oral nutritional supplements and when it is impossible to maintain nutritional requirements enteral feeding via a NGT or PEG is started), prophylactic feeding does not offer advantages in terms of nutritional outcomes, interruptions of radiotherapy and survival. Overall, it seems that further adequate prospective, randomized studies are needed to define the better nutritional intervention in head and neck cancer patients undergoing chemoradiotherapy.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Oral
  • Dietary Supplements
  • Enteral Nutrition
  • Gastrostomy
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / complications
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Intubation, Gastrointestinal
  • Malnutrition / prevention & control
  • Malnutrition / therapy
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic