Barriers to the Delivery of Timely, Guideline-Adherent Adjuvant Therapy Among Patients With Head and Neck Cancer

JCO Oncol Pract. 2020 Dec;16(12):e1417-e1432. doi: 10.1200/OP.20.00271. Epub 2020 Aug 27.


Purpose: Delays initiating guideline-adherent postoperative radiation therapy (PORT) in head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) are common, contribute to excess mortality, and are a modifiable target for improving survival. However, the barriers that prevent the delivery of timely, guideline-adherent PORT remain unknown. This study aims to identify the multilevel barriers to timely, guideline-adherent PORT and organize them into a conceptual model.

Materials and methods: Semi-structured interviews with key informants were conducted with a purposive sample of patients with HNSCC and oncology providers across diverse practice settings until thematic saturation (n = 45). Thematic analysis was performed to identify the themes that explain barriers to timely PORT and to develop a conceptual model.

Results: In all, 27 patients with HNSCC undergoing surgery and PORT were included, of whom 41% were African American, and 37% had surgery and PORT at different facilities. Eighteen clinicians representing a diverse mix of provider types from 7 oncology practices participated in key informant interviews. Five key themes representing barriers to timely PORT were identified across 5 health care delivery levels: (1) inadequate education about timely PORT, (2) postsurgical sequelae that interrupt the tight treatment timeline (both intrapersonal level), (3) insufficient coordination and communication during care transitions (interpersonal and health care team levels), (4) fragmentation of care across health care organizations (organizational level), and (5) travel burden for socioeconomically disadvantaged patients (community level).

Conclusion: This study provides a novel description of the multilevel barriers that contribute to delayed PORT. Interventions targeting these multilevel barriers could improve the delivery of timely, guideline-adherent PORT and decrease mortality for patients with HNSCC.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Delivery of Health Care
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms* / therapy
  • Humans
  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma of Head and Neck / therapy