Association between severity of dysphagia and survival in patients with head and neck cancer

Shune SE; Karnell LH; Karnell MP; Van Daele DJ; Funk GF

Head Neck;34(6):776-84, 2012 Jun.

BACKGROUND: This study examined risk factors for dysphagia, a common and serious condition in patients with head and neck cancer, and the association between severity of dysphagia and survival. METHODS: Chart reviews were performed on patients diagnosed with head and neck cancer between January 2001 and April 2003, who had dysphagia diagnoses or swallowing evaluations. Regression analyses determined factors associated with dysphagia and the association between observed survival and severity of dysphagia. RESULTS: Almost 50% of the 407 patients had dysphagia. Risk factors included advanced stage, older age, female sex, and hypopharyngeal tumors. The most severe dysphagia ([L.] nil per os or “nothing by mouth” status), which was associated with lower survival rates, was the strongest independent predictor of survival. CONCLUSIONS: Swallowing problems should be considered when determining appropriate cancer-directed treatment and posttreatment care. Because of dysphagia’s high incidence rate and association with survival, a speech-language pathologist should be involved to ensure routine diagnostic and therapeutic swallowing interventions.

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