Loneliness and quality of life after head and neck cancer

Head and Neck Cancer
15/07/2020

Dahill A, et al. Br J Oral Maxillofac Surg 2020.

ABSTRACT

Loneliness is associated with a poor quality of life, mental illness, poor physical health, and premature mortality. Patients with head and neck cancer (HNC) are at risk of loneliness because of the effects of the disease and its treatment on important social interactive functions such as appearance, speech, facial expression, and eating. Patients treated for primary squamous cell HNC between January 2015 and December 2016 were surveyed in early 2019 using the University of Washington quality of


life questionnaire version 4, the Cancer-related Loneliness Assessment Tool (C-LAT), and four nationally recommended indicator questions. The survey comprised 140 patients, with a mean (standard deviation) age at diagnosis of 63 (11) years. Tumour sites were oropharyngeal (42%), oral (35%), laryngeal (14%), and elsewhere (9%). In response to the question "How often do you feel lonely?" three-quarters said "hardly ever" and only 6% "often". Similar responses were obtained for the other three indicator questions. It is encouraging that a relatively small proportion had serious issues with loneliness. Similarly, responses to the C-LAT suggested that one-quarter had feelings of loneliness and a minority had serious problems. Patients who were younger, who lived in more deprived circumstances, who had advanced disease and had been treated with chemotherapy or radiotherapy reported greater levels of loneliness. Loneliness was associated with a worse overall quality of life, and worse physical and social-emotional function. Lonely patients need to be identified as early as possible so that support and interventions can be implemented and outcomes improved.