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Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys. 2003 Sep 1;57(1):61-70.

Quality of life after parotid-sparing IMRT for head-and-neck cancer: a prospective longitudinal study.

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Department of Radiation Oncology, Hospital of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-0010, USA.



Parotid-sparing intensity-modulated radiotherapy (IMRT) for head-and-neck cancer reduces xerostomia compared with standard RT. To assess potential improvements in broader aspects of quality of life (QOL), we initiated a study of patient-reported QOL and its predictors after IMRT.


This was a prospective longitudinal study of head-and-neck cancer patients receiving multisegmental static IMRT. Patients were given a validated xerostomia questionnaire (XQ), and a validated head-and-neck cancer-related QOL questionnaire consisting of four multi-item domains: Eating, Communication, Pain, and Emotion. The Eating domain contains one question (total of six) asking directly about xerostomia. In both questionnaires, higher scores denote worse symptoms or QOL. The questionnaires and measurements of salivary output from the major glands were completed before RT started (pre-RT) and at 3, 6, and 12 months after RT. The association between the QOL scores and patient-, tumor-, and therapy-related factors was assessed using the random effects model.


Thirty-six patients participating in the study completed the questionnaires through 12 months. The XQ scores worsened significantly at 3 months compared with the pre-RT scores, but later they improved gradually through 12 months (p = 0.003), in parallel with an increase in the salivary output from the spared salivary glands. The QOL summary scores were stable between the baseline (pre-RT) and 3 months after RT scores. Patients receiving postoperative RT (whose pre-RT questionnaires were taken a few weeks after surgery) tended to have improved scores after RT, reflecting the subsidence of acute postoperative sequelae, compared with a tendency toward worsened scores in patients receiving definitive RT. After 3 months, statistically significant improvement was noted in the summary QOL scores for all patients, through 12 months after RT (p = 0.01). The salivary flow rates, tumor doses, mean oral cavity dose, age, gender, sites or stages of tumor, surgery, and use of chemotherapy were not associated with the QOL scores at any point. The mean dose to the parotid glands correlated with the QOL scores at 3 months (p = 0.05) but not at other post-RT periods. The XQ and QOL summary scores did not correlate before RT but were significantly correlated at each post-RT point (p < 0.01), with a linear correlation coefficient (r) of 0.59, 0.72, and 0.67 at 3, 6, and 12 months, respectively. At these points, the XQ scores also correlated significantly with the scores of each of the individual QOL domains (p < or = 0.01), including the domains Pain and Emotion, which did not contain any xerostomia-related question.


After parotid-sparing IMRT, a statistically significant correlation was noted between patient-reported xerostomia and each of the domains of QOL: Eating, Communication, Pain, and Emotion. Both xerostomia and QOL scores improved significantly over time during the first year after therapy. These results suggest that the efforts to improve xerostomia using IMRT may yield improvements in broad aspects of QOL.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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