Higher carbohydrate intake is associated with increased risk of all-cause and disease-specific mortality in head and neck cancer patients: results from a prospective cohort study

Int J Cancer. 2018 Sep 1;143(5):1105-1113. doi: 10.1002/ijc.31413. Epub 2018 Apr 17.


No studies have evaluated associations between carbohydrate intake and head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) prognosis. We prospectively examined associations between pre- and post-treatment carbohydrate intake and recurrence, all-cause mortality, and HNSCC-specific mortality in a cohort of 414 newly diagnosed HNSCC patients. All participants completed pre- and post-treatment Food Frequency Questionnaires (FFQs) and epidemiologic surveys. Recurrence and mortality events were collected annually. Multivariable Cox Proportional Hazards models tested associations between carbohydrate intake (categorized into low, medium and high intake) and time to recurrence and mortality, adjusting for relevant covariates. During the study period, there were 70 deaths and 72 recurrences. In pretreatment analyses, high intakes of total carbohydrate (HR: 2.29; 95% CI: 1.23-4.25), total sugar (HR: 3.03; 95% CI: 1.12-3.68), glycemic load (HR: 2.10; 95% CI: 1.15-3.83) and simple carbohydrates (HR 2.26; 95% CI 1.19-4.32) were associated with significantly increased risk of all-cause mortality compared to low intake. High intakes of carbohydrate (HR 2.45; 95% CI: 1.23-4.25) and total sugar (HR 3.03; 95% CI 1.12-3.68) were associated with increased risk of HNSCC-specific mortality. In post-treatment analyses, medium fat intake was significantly associated with reduced risk of recurrence (HR 0.08; 95% CI 0.01-0.69) and all-cause mortality (HR 0.27; 95% CI 0.07-0.96). Stratification by tumor site and cancer stage in pretreatment analyses suggested effect modification by these factors. Our data suggest high pretreatment carbohydrate intake may be associated with adverse prognosis in HNSCC patients. Clinical intervention trials to further examine this hypothesis are warranted.

Keywords: carbohydrate; diet; head and neck cancer; laryngeal cancer; mortality; nutrition; oral cancer; oropharyngeal cancer; recurrence; survival.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Dietary Carbohydrates / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Glycemic Index*
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / etiology
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / mortality*
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / pathology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local / etiology
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local / mortality*
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local / pathology
  • Prognosis
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Survival Rate


  • Dietary Carbohydrates