Nutritional experiences in head and neck cancer patients

Eur J Cancer Care (Engl). 2019 Nov;28(6):e13168. doi: 10.1111/ecc.13168. Epub 2019 Sep 30.


Objective: Extensive research has documented the negative nutritional impact of head neck cancer (HNC) treatment, but few studies have addressed the patients' experiences. The purpose of this study was to describe how patients with HNC experience the nutritional situation and perceive nutritional support from diagnosis to the post-treatment phase.

Methods: Patients with HNC were recruited from a randomised pilot study. Individual interviews were conducted after radiotherapy with 10 participants aged 49 - 70 years and analysed by qualitative content analysis.

Results: Undergoing surgery was experienced as a poor nutritional starting point for the upcoming radiotherapy. During radiotherapy, increasing side effects made the participants customise their meals to improve food intake. About halfway through radiotherapy, virtually no food intake was experienced and hospital admissions and initiations of tube-feeding occurred in this period. Oral nutritional supplements were recommended for all, but eventually became unbearable to ingest. When radiotherapy was finally completed, the participants felt discouraged about the persistent side effects preventing them from resume eating. The participants missed tailored information about development of side effects and involvement of a dietitian when reflecting on the treatment-period.

Conclusion: The comprehensive nutritional problems experienced by patients with HNC require early nutritional assessments and improved individually tailored nutritional support.

Keywords: adverse effects; and nutrition; diet; food; head and neck cancer; qualitative research.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Attitude to Health*
  • Diet
  • Dietary Supplements
  • Eating
  • Enteral Nutrition
  • Feeding Behavior
  • Female
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neck Dissection / adverse effects
  • Norway
  • Nutrition Assessment
  • Nutritional Status*
  • Nutritional Support / psychology*
  • Nutritionists
  • Pilot Projects
  • Qualitative Research
  • Radiotherapy / adverse effects*