Background: Head and neck cancer squamous cell carcinoma (HNSSC) patients report substantial rates of clinically significant depression and/or anxiety, with dysphagia being a predictor of distress and poorer quality of life. Evidence-based dysphagia interventions largely focus on the remediation of physical impairment. This feasibility study evaluates an intervention which simultaneously uses a psychological therapy approach combined with swallowing impairment rehabilitation.
Methods: This prospective single cohort mixed-methods study, recruited HNSCC patients with dysphagia, from two institutions. The intervention combined Cognitive Behavioural Therapy with swallowing therapy (CB-EST), was individually tailored, for up to 10 sessions and delivered by a speech and language therapist. Primary acceptability and feasibility measures included recruitment and retention rates, data completion, intervention fidelity and the responsiveness of candidate outcome measures. Measures included a swallowing questionnaire (MDADI), EORTC-QLQH&N35, dietary restrictions scale, fatigue and function scales and the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS), administered pre-, post-CB-EST with three month follow-up and analysed using repeated measures ANOVA. Qualitative interviews were conducted to evaluate intervention processes.
Results: A total of 30/43 (70%) eligible patients agreed to participate and 25 completed the intervention. 84% were male, mean age 59 yrs. Patients were between 1 and 60 months (median 4) post-cancer treatment. All patients had advanced stage disease, treated with surgery and radiotherapy (38%) or primary chemoradiotherapy (62%). Pre to post CB-EST data showed improvements in MDADI scores (p = 0.002), EORTC-QLQH&N35 (p = 0.006), dietary scale (p < 0.0001), fatigue (p = 0.002) but no change in function scales or HADS. Barriers to recruitment were the ability to attend regular appointments and patient suitability or openness to a psychological-based intervention.
Conclusions: CB-EST is a complex and novel intervention, addressing the emotional, behavioural and cognitive components of dysphagia alongside physical impairment. Preliminary results are promising. Further research is required to evaluate efficacy and effectiveness.