Chronic fatigue in long-term survivors of head and neck cancer treated with radiotherapy

Radiother Oncol. 2024 Mar 20:195:110231. doi: 10.1016/j.radonc.2024.110231. Online ahead of print.


Background: There is lack of evidence on chronic fatigue (CF) following radiotherapy (RT) in survivors of head and neck cancer (HNC). We aimed to compare CF in HNC survivors > 5 years post-RT with a reference population and investigate factors associated with CF and the possible impact of CF on health-related quality of life (HRQoL).

Material and methods: In this cross-sectional study we included HNC survivors treated in 2007-2013. Participants filled in patient-reported outcome measures and attended a one-day examination. CF was measured with the Fatigue Questionnaire and compared with a matched reference population using t-tests and Cohen's effect size. Associations between CF, clinical and RT-related factors were investigated using logistic regression. HRQoL was measured with the EORTC Quality of Life core questionnaire.

Results: The median age of the 227 HNC survivors was 65 years and median time to follow-up was 8.5 years post-RT. CF was twice more prevalent in HNC survivors compared to a reference population. In multivariable analyses, female sex (OR 3.39, 95 % CI 1.82-6.31), comorbidity (OR 2.17, 95 % CI 1.20-3.94) and treatment with intensity-modulated RT (OR 2.13, 95 % CI 1.16-3.91) were associated with CF, while RT dose parameters were not. Survivors with CF compared to those without, had significantly worse HRQoL.

Conclusions: CF in HNC survivors is particularly important for female patients, while specific factors associated with RT appear not to play a role. The high CF prevalence in long-term HNC survivors associated with impaired HRQoL is important information beneficial for clinicians and patients to improve patient follow-up.

Keywords: Cancer Survivors; Fatigue; Head and Neck Neoplasms; Patient-Reported Outcome Measures; Quality of Life; Radiotherapy.