Assessing quality of life in head and neck cancer.
Comprehensive assessment of the impact of head and neck cancer goes beyond traditional biomedical outcomes to include quality of life. This paper examines the methods used in reported studies on quality of life in head and neck cancer patients with respect to definitions, approaches to measurement, and types of findings. Analysis reveals little consensus in defining or assessing quality of life, although deficits in patient well-being were well-documented. A number of current efforts to develop and validate quality of life instruments specific to cancers of the head and neck have been reported. Future research should be sensitive to the issue of defining quality of life; a definition which includes both patient perceptions and objective functioning in a number of areas is advisable. Investigators should build on recent and ongoing efforts at instrument development and make efforts to incorporate quality of life assessment in clinical trials of cancer treatments. The distinctive aspects of head and neck cancer illustrate the importance of considering characteristics of the patient population in quality of life research and also the way that quality of life data can contribute to the multidisciplinary team of caregivers.