Development and Feasibility of a Prehabilitation Protocol for Patients Diagnosed with Head and Neck Cancer

Head and Neck Cancer

Cureus. 2020 Aug 20;12(8):e9898. doi: 10.7759/cureus.9898.


Head and neck (H&N) cancers account for 4% of total cancers diagnosed. However, quality of life (QoL) implications are more severe for this patient population due to the complexity, extent, and deformities resulting from treatment interventions. Principally debilitating complications include diminished functional walking capacity, reduced cervical range of motion (ROM), and scapular strength. An extensive literature search revealed a paucity of evidence utilizing physical therapy assessment and intervention for this population. The purpose of this study was to describe the development and clinical feasibility of a prehabilitation program aimed to thwart these complications for patients diagnosed with H&N cancer. Methods: Inclusion criteria: male or female, 18+ years, speak and read the English language, ambulate independently, diagnosed with H&N cancer, and scheduled for surgical intervention. Institutional Review Board approval was obtained. Pre- and post-surgical measurements included the six-minute walk test (6MWT), cervical ROM, manual muscle testing for scapular strength, and three questionnaires: physical activity history, health behaviors questionnaire, and the Functional Assessment Cancer Therapy H&N QoL survey. Results: Three participants were enrolled (two males and one female) all identifying as Caucasian and between 60-90 years of age. Pre- to post-cervical ROM demonstrated decline in extension/bilateral rotation for two of three participants. Two participants demonstrated decreased 6MWT distance while one increased. No participants experienced any adverse effects of the prehabilitation program. Conclusion: This is the first study protocol to describe a physical therapist-administered H&N cancer prehabilitation program. Professionally administered education and exercise has potential to prevent, manage, and mitigate the adverse effects of cancer treatment. Additional research is needed to define the importance of prehabilitation relative to improved clinical outcomes and improved QoL. Patients with a cancer diagnosis are susceptible to impairments and functional limitations as a result of treatments and this prehabilitation program demonstrates potential to positively impact outcomes across the survivorship continuum. Due to their education and integration within the medical system, physical therapists are well-positioned to lead the effort to unify theory and clearly define parameters for oncology prehabilitation.