Purpose: Recent studies have suggested that incorporation of palliative care concomitantly with therapy for metastatic cancer may be beneficial. The American Society of Clinical Oncology has published a provisional clinical opinion recommending incorporation of palliative care alongside chemotherapy in patients with metastatic cancer or a high symptom burden from cancer. In this project, we evaluate the feasibility of incorporation of palliative care in patients with head and neck (H&N) cancer treated with concurrent chemotherapy and radiation.
Methods: The primary goal of this quality improvement project is to assess the feasibility of participation in a palliative care program for patients with H&N cancer undergoing treatment. Patients are recommended for palliative care consultation if they have squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck and are treated with concurrent chemotherapy and radiation (definitive or adjuvant therapy). Patients are offered palliative care consultation in their first week of treatment. They are approached in person to discuss goals and potential benefits of concomitant palliative care and chemotherapy/radiation. All patients are provided with informational material to review. If interested in palliative care, the participant is asked to fill out 5 non-mandatory questionnaires. These include the FACT-H&N, FACIT-Sp-12, PHQ-9, EAT-10, and HADS. Patients are seen by the palliative care service at 6, 12, 26, and 52 weeks after starting chemotherapy/radiation, and patients are asked to fill out the questionnaires at those time points as well. In addition, data on several potential quality elements (weight, use of enteral nutrition, laboratory values, site of disease, p16ink4a status, etc) are collected for comparison with a retrospective cohort.
Results: Retrospective data from the charts of 51 patients have been abstracted and analyzed for comparison with the prospective quality improvement cohort. The median age was 63 (range 48 to 87). Forty-four patients were either stage IVa or IVb. The location of primary tumors included the oropharynx (59%), oral cavity (11.8%), hypopharynx (9.8%), larynx (9.8%), and the nasopharnyx (7.8%). Forty-four of the 51 patients had a percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy tube (for potential enteral nutrition) placed either prophylactically (before or within the first week of treatment, 19 patients) or reactively (after the first week of treatment, 25 patients). In the prospective cohort, 14 patients have thus far been offered palliative care consultation. Six patients agreed to palliative care consultation and 8 declined. The median age was 62, and all patients were male. Data collection and analysis are ongoing.
Conclusions: The results of this project may be able to guide incorporation of routine palliative care with the treatment of patients with (H&N) cancer. Barriers to enrolling in palliative care concomitantly with chemotherapy and radiation should be considered to aid incorporation of early palliative care for patients with H&N cancer.