PURPOSE: The aim of this study is to establish the relative impact of physician-rated toxicities and patient-rated symptoms in head and neck cancer (HNC) on quality of life (QOL) and to weigh the various toxicities and symptoms during treatment plan optimization and selection.
MATERIALS AND METHODS: This prospective cohort study comprised 1,083 HNC patients (development: 750, validation: 333) treated with definitive radiotherapy with or without chemotherapy. Clinical factors were scored at baseline. Physician-rated and patient-rated outcome measures and QOL (EORTC QLQ-HN35 and QLQ-C30) were prospectively scored at baseline and 6, 12, 18 and 24 months after radiotherapy. The impact of 20 common toxicities and symptoms (related to swallowing, salivary function, speech, pain and general complaints) on QOL (0-100 scale) was established for each time point by combining principal component analysis and multivariable linear regression.
RESULTS: Radiation-induced toxicities and symptoms resulted in a significant decline in QOL of patients with 12.4±12.8 points at 6 months to 16.6±17.1 points at 24 months. The multivariable linear models described the QOL points subtracted for each toxicity and symptom after radiotherapy. For example, xerostomia and weight loss had a significant but minor effect (on average -0.5 and -0.6 points) while speech problems and fatigue had a much greater impact (on average -11.9 and -17.4 points) on QOL. R2 goodness-of-fit values for the QOL models ranged from 0.64 (6 months) to 0.72 (24 months).
CONCLUSION: The relative impact of physician-rated toxicities and patient-rated symptoms on QOL was quantified and can be used to optimize, compare and select HNC radiotherapy treatment plans, to balance the relevance of toxicities and to achieve the best QOL for individual patients.