Many HNC patients are malnourished when diagnosed

Some 35% to 60% of all patients with head and neck cancers (HNC) are malnourished when they are diagnosed, according to a new study in the Journal of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery (November 2013, Vol. 71:11, pp. 1853-1860).

The problem is the result of intake obstruction caused by the patient's tumor, the lack of appetite, and loss of muscle mass and fat stores associated with the cancer, the researchers wrote in a review of the nutritional aspects of care for HNC patients.

Researchers from the Boston University School of Medicine and the University of Tennessee Graduate School of Medicine conducted a literature search of several databases from 1990 through 2012 on the clinical effectiveness of nutritional support, treatment modalities, and methods of delivery in patients with head and neck cancers.

The 248 studies they analyzed focused on the etiology and assessment of malnutrition, as well as current nutritional treatments for cancer-induced anorexia and body weakness. They included two randomized, controlled clinical trials, 10 meta-analyses, 210 review studies, and 26 systematic reviews.

A nutritional assessment must be part of any comprehensive treatment plan for HNC patients, the researchers concluded. Furthermore, they noted that nutritional interventions should be initiated before cancer treatment begins, and that these interventions need to be ongoing after completion of treatment to ensure optimal patient outcomes.

In addition, more research is needed to quantify the clinical effects of adjuvant therapies in the form of alternative medical interventions, such as immune-enhancing nutrients and anticytokine pharmaceutical agents, according to the researchers.

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