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Support Care Cancer. 2010 Jun;18(6):667-77. doi: 10.1007/s00520-009-0686-3. Epub 2009 Jul 7.

Nutritional support for head and neck cancer patients receiving radiotherapy: a systematic review.

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  • 1Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry, University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario, Canada.



Squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck (HNSCC) is associated with weight loss before, during, and after treatment with radiotherapy (RT). This systematic review addressed the question "Which interventions aimed at optimizing nutrition are of benefit to HNSCC patients receiving RT?"


Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) studying interventions directed at nutritional support of adult patients with HNSCC receiving RT with or without chemotherapy were eligible. RCTs studying prophylaxis of acute mucositis, perioperative nutrition, or palliative and non-HNSCC populations were excluded. A comprehensive literature search was done and meta-analyses planned.


Ten unique RCTs were identified (n = 585). All randomized less than 50 patients per trial arm. Five trials studied dietary counseling and/or nutritional supplements, four studied drug interventions, and one studied prophylactic enteral tube feeding. Nutritional status appeared to be maintained or improved with dietary counseling, megestrol acetate, and prophylactic enteral tube feeding.


Data from RCTs supporting the use of interventions to optimize nutrition in HNSCC patients receiving RT are limited in both quantity and quality. Potentially effective interventions have not been tested comparatively or in combination, and few patients receiving chemoradiotherapy were studied. Further research in this area is a priority.

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