The diagnosis and subsequent treatment of head and neck cancer can have a potentially devastating impact on psychosocial functioning. Although the long-term physical adverse effects of radiation therapy (RT) for head and neck cancer have been well described, relatively few studies have evaluated psychosocial functioning after treatment.
To determine the prevalence of self-reported depression among survivors of head and neck cancer returning for follow-up after being treated with RT.
Design, Setting, and Participants
Cross-sectional analysis among 211 comprehensive cancer center patients with squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck, who had been previously treated with RT and were disease-free with at least 1 year of follow-up. Patients with a history of mood disorder, use of mental health services in the past, or previous or current use of antidepressants or anxiolytics, excluding sleep medications, were specifically excluded.
The University of Washington Quality of Life instrument (UW-QOL), a brief, previously validated, self-administered questionnaire, was used to analyze rates of depression.
Main Outcomes and Measures
The UW-QOL assigned scores of 0, 25, 50, 75, and 100 subjective responses of mood being “extremely depressed,” “somewhat depressed,” “neither in a good mood or depressed,” “generally good,” and “excellent,” respectively.
The mean mood score did not differ at 1, 3, and 5 years after treatment, with scores of 52.0, 55.7, and 62.1, respectively. The proportion of patients who reported their mood as “somewhat depressed” or “extremely depressed” was 17%, 15%, and 13% at 1, 3, and 5 years, respectively. Variables that were significantly associated with post-RT depression included the presence of tracheostomy tube or laryngeal stoma (P = .01), gastrostomy tube dependence (P = .01), and continued smoking at the time of follow-up (P < .001). Among the patients reporting their mood as either “somewhat depressed” or “extremely depressed” at 1, 3, and 5 years, the proportion using antidepressants at the time was 6%, 11%, and 0%, respectively. The corresponding proportion of patients actively undergoing or seeking psychotherapy and/or counseling was 3%, 6%, and 0%, respectively.
Conclusions and Relevance
Despite a relatively high rate of depression among patients with head and neck cancer in the post-RT setting, mental health services are severely underutilized.