Association Between Cognitive Function and Quality of Life in Patients With Head and Neck Cancer

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Abstract

Importance

There is a dearth of research examining the associations between cognitive function and quality of life (QoL) in patients with head and neck cancer (HNC), despite much research examining QoL and some research examining cognitive function in this population.

Objective

To identify the associations between cognitive functioning and QoL in patients prior to treatment for HNC within a multidisciplinary care team.

Design, Setting, and Participants

Case series with planned data collection of cognitive function, QoL, and psychosocial variables at an urban Midwest academic medical center including 83 patients with a diagnosis of HNC between August 2015 and December 2016 who underwent a pretreatment assessment with a clinical health psychologist and a speech and language pathologist.

Main Outcomes and Measures

At pretreatment assessment, the Montreal Cognitive Assessment and Functional Assessment of Cancer Therapy–Head & Neck, version 4, were administered along with a semistructured interview to gather data on psychiatric symptoms, social support, and substance use. Patient demographic, clinical, and psychosocial variables were extracted via medical record review.

Results

Of 83 patients (64 [77%] male; mean age, 59.54 [95% CI, 57.23-61.73] years), cognitive impairment was identified in 55% (n = 46) at pretreatment. Number of depressive symptoms (mean, 2.43 [95% CI, 2.06-2.89] symptoms) was associated with impairments in delayed recall (r = −0.28; 95% CI, −0.47 to −0.07) and all domains of QoL. Cognitive impairment in delayed recall was associated with lower QoL in both overall QoL and the domains of emotional and functional well-being. Current benzodiazepine use, history of heavy alcohol use, and current and past tobacco use were also associated with lower QoL in specific domains.

Conclusions and Relevance

Cognitive impairment is common in patients with HNC and is associated with QoL and psychosocial variables. Together with previous research indicating that cognitive function and QoL can influence treatment adherence and outcomes, the results argue for the incorporation of cognitive screening and QoL assessment as part of pretreatment assessment for patients.

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