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Nutrition impact symptoms and weight loss in head and neck cancer during radiotherapy: a longitudinal study


Objective Patients with head and neck cancer (HNC) receiving radiotherapy (RT) are at high risk of weight loss (WL) due to a variety of nutrition impact symptoms (NIS). This study aimed to describe the NIS through the Head and Neck patient Symptom Checklist and body weight over time and further explore the impact of NIS on WL in patients with HNC undergoing RT.

Methods This was a prospective, longitudinal observational study. NIS and body weight of 117 participants were assessed at baseline, mid-treatment and post-treatment of RT. Generalised estimation equations (GEE) were used to conduct repeated measures analysis of NIS interference score and body weight at each time point and estimate the impact of NIS interference score on WL.

Results All participants experienced a substantial increase in the mean number of NIS during RT, with each patient having eight to nine NIS at mid-treatment and post-treatment. Marked increases were noted in almost each NIS score during RT. Compared with their baseline body weight, 97 (82.9%) and 111 (94.9%) participants experienced WL at mid-treatment and post-treatment, with the mean WL of 2.55±1.70 kg and 5.31±3.18 kg, respectively. NIS of dry mouth (β=−0.681, p=0.002, 95% CI −1.116 to −0.247), difficulty swallowing (β=−0.410, p=0.001, 95% CI −0.651 to −0.169) and taste change (β=−0.447, p=0.000, 95% CI −0.670 to −0.225) impacted WL significantly in GEE multivariate model.

Conclusions Patients with HNC experience a variety of NIS which have significant impact on WL during RT. Assessment of NIS, especially dry mouth, difficulty swallowing and taste change, should be given more considerable attention in the supportive care of patients with HNC.

  • head and neck
  • supportive care
  • symptoms and symptom management

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