March 1st 2005
Malnutrition plays a key role in the morbidity of head and neckcancer patients receiving surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, or combined-modality therapy. In addition to weight lost prior to the diagnosisof head and neck cancer, the patient may lose an additional 10% ofpretherapy body weight during radiotherapy or combined-modality treatment.A reduction of greater than 20% of total body weight results inan increase in toxicity and mortality. Severe toxicity can result in prolongedtreatment time, which has been implicated in poor clinical outcome.Early intervention with nutritional supplementation can reducethe chance of inferior outcome in patients at high risk of weight loss.The preferred route of nutritional support for these patients is enteralnutrition. Two commonly used methods for enteral feedings arenasoenteric and percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy. It is importantto take into account the ethical considerations involved in providinglong-term nutritional support, particularly for patients with terminalconditions. Nutritional directives are best evaluated throughmultidisciplinary efforts, including input from the patient as well asmembers of the nursing, nutritionist, and medical staff.