A new study says that quality of life can predict survival among patients with head and neck cancer.
The study indicates that identifying patients with poor quality of life could help in recognizing patients with aggressive tumours.
Researchers from the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Centre analysed 495 people at four hospitals with head and neck cancer within the previous two years. They were asked about physical and emotional quality of life, including pain, eating and swallowing, speech and emotional well-being.
"Low quality of life may have value in screening patients for recurrence. By identifying patients with poor quality of life, we may also be able to identify early on those who have particularly aggressive tumours," said Carrie A. Karvonen-Gutierrez, lead study author and research associate at the U-M School of Public Health and the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System.
The findings revealed that general physical health and quality of life issues had an impact on survival.
Also patients who reported difficulty with pain, eating and speech were significantly less likely to survive.
"Our findings validate the concept that doctors have long recognized: that persistent or increasing pain is a worrisome clinical finding," said Sonia A. Duffy, study author, a research scientist at the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System, associate professor of nursing at the U-M School of Nursing and research assistant professor of otolaryngology at the U-M Medical School.
"Perhaps in the future, quality of life data will be routinely collected in a standardized way, and trends in pain scores will trigger more aggressive examinations for cancer recurrence," she added.
"While patients are monitored and screened after cancer treatment, small recurrences of cancer may be difficult to detect, even with standard imaging techniques," said Dr Jeffrey Terrell study author, associate professor of otolaryngology at the U-M Medical School.
The team would be conducting further studies to understand whether treatments that improve quality of life can improve survival.
"Although it is not yet clear how the association works between survival and quality of life related to head and neck pain, it is clearly advantageous to minimize pain for patients," Duffy said.
The study appears in the June 1 issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology.