State of Rehabilitation Research in the Head and Neck Cancer Population: Functional Impact vs. Impairment-Focused Outcomes

Curr Oncol Rep. 2022 Apr;24(4):517-532. doi: 10.1007/s11912-022-01227-x. Epub 2022 Feb 19.


Purpose of review: Management of head and neck cancer (HNC) typically involves a morbid combination of surgery, radiation, and systemic therapy. As the number of HNC survivors grows, there is growing interest in rehabilitation strategies to manage HNC-related comorbidity. In this review, we summarize the current state of HNC rehabilitation research.

Recent findings: We have organized our review using the World Health Organization's International Classification of Function (ICF) model of impairment, activity, and participation. Specifically, we describe the current research on rehabilitation strategies to prevent and treat impairments including dysphagia, xerostomia, dysgeusia, dysosmia, odynophagia, trismus, first bite syndrome, dysarthria, dysphonia, lymphedema, shoulder syndrome, cervicalgia, cervical dystonia and dropped head syndrome, deconditioning, and fatigue. We also discuss the broader impact of HNC-related impairment by exploring the state of rehabilitation literature on activity, participation, psychosocial distress, and suicidality in HNC survivors. We demonstrate that research in HNC rehabilitation continues to focus primarily on impairment-driven interventions. There remains a dearth of HNC rehabilitation studies directly examining the impact of rehabilitation interventions on outcomes related to activity and participation. More high-quality interventional studies and reviews are needed to guide prevention and treatment of functional loss in HNC survivors.

Keywords: Function; Head and neck neoplasms; Pain; Quality of life; Rehabilitation; Speech.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Fatigue
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms*
  • Humans
  • Quality of Life / psychology
  • Rehabilitation Research*
  • Survivors