Quality of Life in Patients With Recurrent and Second Primary Head and Neck Cancer

Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2023 Feb;168(2):196-202. doi: 10.1177/01945998221087712.


Objective: In the setting of similar outcomes, quality of life (QOL) measures can be utilized to compare treatment modalities in head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC). We evaluate QOL and symptoms in patients treated for primary, second primary, and recurrent HNSCC.

Study design: Retrospective cohort study.

Setting: Head and neck cancer survivorship clinic.

Methods: We identified patients seen between 2016 and 2019. QOL and symptoms were assessed with the University of Washington Quality of Life (UW-QOL) questionnaire, 10-item Eating Assessment Tool, 8-item Patient Health Questionnaire, 7-item Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and Neck Disability Index. Regression analysis was utilized to explore associations and compare QOL outcomes.

Results: Our cohort comprised 662 patients: 546 with primary HNSCC, 34 with second primary HNSCC, and 82 with recurrent HNSCC. Multimodality therapy was associated with lower UW-QOL Physical Subscale (UW-QOL-PS) vs single modality: chemoradiation therapy (-12.17 [95% CI, -16.57 to -7.78]) and surgery + postadjuvant treatment (-12.11 [-16.06 to -8.16]). Multimodality therapy was also associated with lower UW-QOL Social-Emotional Subscale (UW-QOL-SS): chemoradiation therapy (-6.70 [-11.41 to -1.99]) and surgery + postadjuvant treatment (-7.41 [-11.63 to -3.19]). Recurrence (-14.42 [-18.80 to -10.04]) and second primary (-11.15 [-17.71 to -4.59]) demonstrated lower UW-QOL-PS vs primary. Radiation for recurrence or second primary had worse UW-QOL-PS (-10.43 [-19.27 to -1.59]) and UW-QOL-SS (-10.58 [-18.76 to -1.54]) and higher Eating Assessment Tool (6.08 [1.39-10.77]) than surgery alone. Surgery + postadjuvant treatment showed worse UW-QOL-PS (-12.65 [-23.76 to -1.54]) and UW-QOL-SS (-12.20 [-22.38 to -2.03]).

Conclusion: Multimodality therapy, particularly with recurrent and second primary HNSCC, is more likely to contribute to diminished QOL and symptoms. This important consideration should play a role in framing informed discussions with patients regarding treatment.

Keywords: head and neck cancer; metachronous primary; quality of life; recurrence; second primary; survivorship.

MeSH terms

  • Head and Neck Neoplasms* / therapy
  • Humans
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local / therapy
  • Quality of Life*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma of Head and Neck / therapy
  • Surveys and Questionnaires