Despite modern advances in the treatment of head and neck cancer, the survival rate fails to improve. Considering the different treatment modalities involved, quality of life has been thought of as an additional end point criterion for use in clinical trials. A Nordic protocol to measure the quality of life of head and neck cancer patients before, during, and after treatment was established. Before the study, a pilot study was done with this protocol. The main purpose of this pilot study was to find out whether this cancer population would answer quality-of-life questionnaires repeatedly (six times) over a 1-year period and whether the chosen questionnaires-a core questionnaire (European Organisation for Research and Treatment of Cancer Core Quality of Life Questionnaire (EORTC QLQ-C30)), a tumor-specific questionnaire, and a psychological distress measure (Hospital Anxiety and Depression scale (HAD))-were sensitive for changes to functions and symptoms during the study year. The results presented in this article all refer to the pilot study. Forty-eight consecutive patients agreed to participate in the study. The most common tumor locations were the oral cavity (17) and the larynx (12). Almost all patients received combined treatment: 45 of 48 radiation therapy, 18 of 48 chemotherapy, and 17 of 48 surgery. After the primary treatment, 40 patients had complete tumor remission. Four of the 48 patients did not answer any questionnaires and were therefore excluded from the study. Of the remaining 44 patients, 3 died during the study year, and another 6 withdrew for various reasons. Thirty-five (85%) of the 41 patients alive at the 1-year follow-up answered all six questionnaires and thus completed the study. Mailed questionnaires were used throughout the study. All questionnaires were well accepted and found to be sensitive to changes during the study year. The greatest variability was found for symptoms and functions related specifically to head and neck cancer. The symptoms were swallowing difficulties, hoarse voice, sore mouth, dry mouth, and problems with taste. They all showed the same pattern, with an increase of symptoms during and just after finishing the treatment. The HAD scale revealed a high level of psychological distress, with 21% probable cases of psychiatric morbidity at diagnosis. In conclusion, it was shown that the study design and questionnaires were feasible for the forthcoming prospective quality-of-life assessment of Swedish and Norwegian head and neck cancer patients.
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