The impact of nutritional counseling on thyroid disorders in head and neck cancer patients after (chemo)radiotherapy: results from a prospective interventional trial

Strahlenther Onkol. 2022 Feb;198(2):135-148. doi: 10.1007/s00066-021-01865-3. Epub 2021 Nov 1.


Objective: To analyze the impact of nutritional counseling on the development of hypothyroidism after (chemo)radiotherapy in head and neck cancer patients to propose a new normal tissue complication probability (NTCP) model.

Materials and methods: At baseline, at the end of (chemo)radiotherapy, and during follow-up, thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) with free thyroxin (fT3 and fT4), nutritional status, and nutrient intake were prospectively analyzed in 46 out of 220 screened patients. Patients received (chemo)radiotherapy within an intervention (individual nutritional counseling every 2 weeks during therapy) and a control group (no nutritional counseling).

Results: Overall median follow-up was 16.5 [IQR: 12; 22] months. Fourteen patients (30.4%) presented with hypothyroidism after 13.5 [8.8; 17] months. During (chemo)radiotherapy, nutritional status worsened in the entire cohort: body mass index (p < 0.001) and fat-free mass index (p < 0.001) decreased, calorie deficit (p = 0.02) increased, and the baseline protein intake dropped (p = 0.028). The baseline selenium intake (p = 0.002) increased until the end of therapy. Application of the NTCP models by Rønjom, Cella, and Boomsma et al. resulted in good performance of all three models, with an AUC ranging from 0.76 to 0.78. Our newly developed NTCP model was based on baseline TSH and baseline ferritin. Model performance was good, receiving an AUC of 0.76 (95% CI: 0.61-0.87), with a sensitivity of 57.1% and specificity of 96.9% calculated for a Youden index of 0.73 (p = 0.004; area = 0.5).

Conclusion: Baseline TSH and ferritin act as independent predictors for radiotherapy-associated hypothyroidism. The exclusion of such laboratory chemistry parameters in future NTCP models may result in poor model performance.

Keywords: Chemoradiotherapy; Hypothyroidism; Normal tissue complication probability (NTCP) model; Radiotherapy; Thyroid gland.

Publication types

  • Controlled Clinical Trial

MeSH terms

  • Counseling
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms* / radiotherapy
  • Humans
  • Hypothyroidism* / etiology
  • Hypothyroidism* / prevention & control
  • Prospective Studies