Background: As a result of tumor location and treatment that is aggressive, head and neck cancer (HNC) survivors experience an array of symptoms impacting the ability and desire to eat termed nutrition impact symptoms (NISs). Despite increasing cancer survival time, the majority of research studies examining the impact of NISs have been based on clinical samples of HNC patients during the acute phase of treatment. NISs are often chronic and persist beyond the completion of treatment or may develop as late side effects. Therefore, our research team examined chronic NIS complications on HNC survivors’ functional status, quality of life, and diet quality. Methods: This was a cross-sectional study of 42 HNC survivors who were at least 6 months post-radiation. Self-reported data on demographics, NISs, quality of life, and usual diet over the past year were obtained. Objective measures of functional status included the short physical performance battery and InBody© 270 body composition testing. NISs were coded so a lower score indicated lower symptom burden, (range 4–17) and dichotomized as ≤10 vs. >10, the median in the dataset. Wilcoxon rank sum tests were performed between the dichotomized NIS summary score and continuous quality of life and functional status outcomes. Diet quality for HNC survivors was calculated using the Healthy Eating Index 2015 (HEI-2015). Wilcoxon rank sum tests examined the difference between the HNC HEI-2015 as compared to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) data calculated using the population ratio method. Results: A lower NIS score was statistically associated with higher posttreatment lean muscle mass (p = 0.002). A lower NIS score was associated with higher functional (p = 0.0006), physical (p = 0.0007), emotional (p = 0.007), and total (p < 0.0001) quality of life. Compared to NHANES controls, HNC survivors reported a significantly lower HEI-2015 diet quality score (p = 0.0001). Conclusions: Lower NIS burden was associated with higher lean muscle mass and functional, physical, emotional, and total quality of life in post-radiation HNC survivors. HNC survivors reported a significantly lower total HEI-2015 as compared to healthy NHANES controls, providing support for the hypothesis that chronic NIS burden impacts the desire and ability to eat. The effects of this pilot study were strong enough to be detected by straight forward statistical approaches and warrant a larger longitudinal study. For survivors most impacted by NIS burden, multidisciplinary post-radiation exercise and nutrition-based interventions to manage NISs and improve functional status, quality of life, and diet quality in this survivor population are needed.
- quality of life
- head and neck