Factors Associated With Risk of Body Image-Related Distress in Patients With Head and Neck Cancer

JAMA Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2021 Dec 1;147(12):1019-1026. doi: 10.1001/jamaoto.2021.1378.


Importance: Body image-related distress (BID) is common among head and neck cancer (HNC) survivors and associated with significant morbidity. Risk factors for HNC-related BID remain poorly characterized because prior research has used outcome measures that fail to fully capture BID as experienced by HNC survivors.

Objective: To assess the association of demographic and oncologic characteristics with HNC-related BID using the Inventory to Measure and Assess imaGe disturbancE-Head & Neck (IMAGE-HN), a validated, multidomain, patient-reported outcome measure of HNC-related BID.

Design, setting, and participants: This cross-sectional study assessed 301 adult survivors of surgically managed HNC at 4 academic medical centers.

Main outcomes and measures: The primary outcome measure was IMAGE-HN scores, for which higher scores reflect more severe HNC-related BID. Multivariable linear regression analyses were performed to evaluate the association of patient characteristics with IMAGE-HN global and 4 subdomain (other-oriented appearance concerns, personal dissatisfaction with appearance, distress with functional impairments, and social avoidance) scores.

Results: Of the 301 participants (212 [70.4%] male; mean [SD] age, 65.3 [11.7] years), 181 (60.1%) underwent free flap reconstruction. Graduation from college (β = -9.6; 95% CI, -17.5 to -1.7) or graduate school (β = -12.6; 95% CI, -21.2 to -3.8) was associated with lower IMAGE-HN social avoidance scores compared with less than a high school education. Compared with paid work, unemployment was associated with higher IMAGE-HN other-oriented appearance (β = 10.7; 95% CI, 2.0-19.3), personal dissatisfaction with appearance (β = 12.5; 95% CI, 1.2-23.7), and global (β = 8.0; 95% CI, 0.6-15.4) scores. Compared with no reconstruction, free flap reconstruction was associated with higher IMAGE-HN global scores (β = 11.5; 95% CI, 7.9-15.0) and all subdomain scores (other-oriented appearance: β = 13.1; 95% CI, 8.6-17.6; personal dissatisfaction with appearance: β = 15.4; 95% CI, 10.0-20.7; distress with functional impairment: β = 12.8; 95% CI, 8.1-17.4; and social avoidance and isolation: β = 10.2; 95% CI, 5.8-14.6). Higher IMAGE-HN distress with functional impairment scores were found in those who received surgery and adjuvant radiation (β = 7.8; 95% CI, 2.9-12.7) or chemoradiotherapy (β = 6.5; 95% CI, 1.8-11.3) compared with surgery alone. The multivariable regression model accounted for a modest proportion of variance in IMAGE-HN global (R2 = 0.18) and subdomain scores (R2 = 0.20 for other-oriented appearance, 0.14 for personal dissatisfaction with appearance, 0.21 for distress with functional impairment, and 0.13 for social avoidance and isolation).

Conclusions and relevance: In this cross-sectional study, factors associated with risk of HNC-related BID included free flap reconstruction, lower educational attainment, unemployment, and multiple treatment modalities. These characteristics explain a modest proportion of variance in IMAGE-HN scores, suggesting that other characteristics may be the major risk factors for HNC-related BID and should be explored in future studies.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Observational Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Body Dissatisfaction / psychology*
  • Cancer Survivors / psychology*
  • Chemoradiotherapy, Adjuvant
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Free Tissue Flaps
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Linear Models
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Patient Reported Outcome Measures*
  • Patient Satisfaction / statistics & numerical data*
  • Plastic Surgery Procedures / psychology
  • Risk Factors
  • Self Report
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Young Adult