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Quality of Life After Radiation and Transoral Robotic Surgery in Advanced Oropharyngeal Cancer

December 3, 2021

Multimodality therapy is a mainstay of oropharyngeal cancer treatment regimens with patients often receiving a combination of surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. 

At the UPMC Department of Otolaryngology, a multidisciplinary team of investigators led by Jonas Johnson, MD, FACS, and Marci Nilsen, PhD, RN, are analyzing data from the UPMC Head and Neck Survivorship Clinic. Their work specifically focuses on what happens after surviving head and neck cancer — when patients must adapt to the life changes caused by the cancer and their treatments. This study aimed to explore how differences in these cancer treatment plans affect not only survival but also long-term quality of life measures. 

The cohort consisted of 73 head and neck cancer patients with advanced oropharyngeal tumors (primarily HPV+) who received either 1) robotic surgery with adjuvant radiation +/- chemotherapy or 2) primary radiation +/- chemotherapy.  

Overall, both treatment groups reported depression, anxiety, and reduced patient-reported quality of life measures. Radiation field analysis discovered that increased radiation doses to the larynx and the contralateral major salivary glands were associated with worse swallowing outcomes. 

The study highlights the need for continued therapy de-escalation, improved recognition and management of treatment-related toxicities, and an emphasis on optimization of post-treatment mental and physical health.

Read the full study here


Kaffenberger TM, Patel AK, Lyu L, Li J, Wasserman-Wincko T, Zandberg DP, Clump DA, Johnson JT, Nilsen ML. Quality of life after radiation and transoral robotic surgery in advanced oropharyngeal cancer. Laryngoscope Investig Otolaryngol. 2021 Sep 16;6(5):983-990. doi: 10.1002/lio2.628. PMID: 34667840; PMCID: PMC8513430.