Nutrition impact symptoms and associated outcomes in post-chemoradiotherapy head and neck cancer survivors: a systematic review

Sylvia L. Crowder, Katherine G. Douglas, M. Yanina Pepino, Kalika P. Sarma, Anna E. Arthur

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Purpose: It is estimated that more than 90% of head and neck cancer (HNC) survivors who underwent chemoradiotherapy experience one or more nutrition impact symptoms (NIS) in the months or years thereafter. Despite the high prevalence, there is limited research addressing long-term impact of NIS on outcomes such as nutrition and quality of life in HNC survivors treated with chemoradiotherapy. Objective: To conduct a systematic review of the literature pertaining to the presence of nutrition impact symptoms and their associated outcomes in post-chemoradiotherapy head and neck cancer survivors. Evidence review: A systematic review was conducted across three databases according to PRISMA guidelines and used to identify current literature regarding NIS in HNC survivors. A keyword search was conducted in PubMed, Scopus, and Web of Science from 2007 to 2017. Studies that met all of the following criteria were included in the review: (1) studies must include human subjects with a HNC diagnosis; (2) study participants must have received chemoradiotherapy; (3) study participants must have been post-treatment for a minimum of 3 months at the time of data collection; (4) full-text articles must have appeared in peer-reviewed journals; (5) papers must have been published in English; (6) studies must be quantitative in nature; (7) studies must have reported at least one NIS; and (8) studies must address at least one of the following outcomes: nutrition, functional status, or quality of life. Two independent reviewers assessed study quality using a predefined set of criteria. Findings: A systematic search yielded 1119 papers, of which 15 met the inclusion criteria. The study reviewed existing evidence of NIS in a variety of HNC survivors ranging from 3 months to greater than 10 years post-chemoradiotherapy treatment. Eight hundred forty-nine study participants were included in the review. Of the 15 studies, 10 were designed as prospective cohort studies, 4 were cross-sectional studies, and 1 was a retrospective cohort study. Functional impairments as a result of chemoradiotherapy to the head and neck are prevalent in research and include dysphagia, xerostomia, trismus, salivary issues, mucositis, and oral pain. Conclusions: NIS negatively influence HNC survivors beyond the acute phase of treatment. These symptoms are associated with decreased nutrition and quality of life. Interventions are necessary to improve survivors’ eating challenges beyond the completion of treatment. If practitioners do not follow patients long term, patients may suffer consequences of NIS including malnutrition risk, weight loss, and decreased food intake and quality of life. Implications for Cancer Survivors: The prevalence and consequences of nutrition impact symptoms are substantial among head and neck cancer survivors beyond the acute phase of cancer treatment. Oncology clinicians should continuously monitor and manage these symptoms throughout the cancer continuum.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)479-494
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Cancer Survivorship
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 1 2018


  • Head and neck cancer
  • Nutrition
  • Nutrition impact symptoms
  • Quality of life
  • Survivors

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Oncology(nursing)


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