Purpose: To test the hypothesis that head and neck cancer (HNC) patients are in need of specialized follow-up (FU). This was done by an evaluation of the FU activities in a cohort of patients followed longitudinally for five years with focus on optimal duration and interval of post-therapeutic follow-up.
Methods: The study evaluated a cohort consisting of 197 consecutive patients with HNC treated at Aarhus University Hospital from 1 January to 31 December 2009. The inclusion criteria was that patients should be deemed free of disease two months after completed primary curative intended treatment or after primary curative salvage. It left 141 patients available for analysis. Data were collected through a medical chart review and from the Danish Head and Neck Cancer Group (DAHANCA) database. Parameters recorded were: regular or extraordinary visit, alarm symptoms, late morbidity and the consequences of these.
Results: The 141 patients underwent 1408 FU visits. Only 15 of the 141 patients had no tumor problems or morbidity issues raised at any FU visit. Suspicion of recurrent disease was observed at 207 of the 1408 FU visits, involving 97 patients and resulted in a total of 370 diagnostic procedures; 170 (82%) visits with suspicion of recurrence occurred within 3½ years after end of treatment. A recurrence was verified in 30 patients. Additionally four new primary head and neck cancer was diagnosed during follow-up. There were 1150 visits (82%) involving 135 patients in which late treatment-related morbidity was recorded. Actions taken related to morbidity happened in 71 patients, but no new problems appeared after three years.
Conclusion: The study document the need of specialized FU, as 86% of all HNC survivors have tumor or severe morbidity issues during FU. The data suggest that 3½-year FU after ended therapy may be sufficient for the majority of patients.