To evaluate the prereferral treatment of patients referred to our tertiary care center with recurrent or persistent head and neck cancer for compliance with National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) guidelines.
A prospective recruitment and retrospective chart review.
The study included new patients identified at multidisciplinary treatment planning conference from October 1, 2008, to February 1, 2009, who had received prior treatment at an outside institution and presented to our department with recurrent or persistent disease.
Main Outcome Measures
All facets of prior care were examined, including the time from initial symptoms to diagnosis and whether their prereferral treatment was compliant with or deviated from NCCN guidelines for head and neck cancer.
A total of 566 consecutive new patients were identified, of whom 107 (18.9%) had persistent or recurrent disease. The average time from first presentation with initial symptoms to diagnosis among patients who presented with persistent disease was 23.8 weeks. Nearly half of the patients who presented with persistent or recurrent disease had either endocrine (21.5%) or cutaneous (24.2%) primary cancers, with the rest of the cases being distributed among 10 other sites. Of the patients who presented with recurrent or persistent disease, 43.0% had prereferral care that was noncompliant with NCCN guidelines. Of these patients, 58.7% had inadequate surgical management, 15.2% were treated for the wrong diagnosis, 10.9% received inadequate adjuvant therapy, 4.4% received inadequate radiotherapy, and 10.9% refused indicated recommended treatment.
Significant deviation from NCCN guidelines for head and neck cancer treatment was observed in the cohort of study patients. The failure to administer adjuvant therapy when indicated by NCCN guidelines is particularly concerning. Economic and noneconomic costs, including lost wages, cost of “do-over” therapy, and potentially diminished survival, are substantial. Measures to ensure that patients receive therapy according to guidelines should be a national priority.