University of MichiganIn the past we reported that coffee may protect against head and neck cancer. A groundbreaking study triggered by the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center seems to reveal that a year after the diagnosis, elevated symptoms of chronic pain and complaints of dry mouth associated to radiation treatments are reported. However, these side effects are ascertained to be controlled or modified.

By reducing the side effects in head and neck cancer patients, the quality of sleep hygiene and life may be improved. Previously initiated analysis seemingly revealed that head and neck cancer patients registering reported lower physical quality of life were more likely to die from their disease. Sleep in patients even appeared to be hampered due to a tracheotomy, depression and younger age.

Jeffrey Terrell, M.D., professor of otolaryngology at the U-M Medical School and senior study author affirmed, “Sleep disturbances are a common complaint in head and neck cancer patients and have been shown to decrease quality of life, decrease mental health and serve as a predictor of other complications in the treatment of the cancer. They can also negatively affect the immune system and the ability to deal with stresses of the diagnosis.”

In order to conduct the study, 457 people at three otolaryngology clinics that had been recently diagnosed with head and neck cancer were surveyed. The survey included questions about the participants physical and emotional quality of life, also pain, sleep health, eating and respiratory problems. One year after the diagnosis, the patients were again surveyed by the investigators.

Sonia A. Duffy, Ph.D., R.N., study author, associate professor of nursing at the U-M School of Nursing and otolaryngology at the U-M Medical School and research scientist at the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System said, “While cancer patients in general have been known to have decreased sleep quality, head and neck cancer patients may have unique issues such as facial disfigurements and side effects from treatments that can affect the mouth and throat. These problems may thereby contribute to breathing problems which can impede sleep.”

The outcome was that no significant change in the sleep quality was registered from the time of diagnosis to one year after treatment. Yet the quality of sleep at both time points appeared to be worse than typical sleep scores for the average person. The slight alteration in sleep quality in a year after diagnosis can probably be due to symptoms and side effects from treatments such as surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy.

Terrell quoted, “Head and neck cancer patients have a high prevalence of pain compared to other cancer sites and pain is associated with insomnia. Pain is often correlated with depression among cancer patients, and the majority of depressed patients report some sleep disturbances. Additionally, radiation therapy to treat head and neck cancer can contribute to dry mouth, which requires excessive drinking and urination throughout the night.”

The authors apparently suggest intensity-modulated radiation therapy techniques that avoid destroying saliva-producing glands and treat head and neck cancer. Employing this method may decrease the intensity of permanently dry mouth that may be a major complication of radiation to treat head and neck cancer.

Duffy explained, “It’s imperative for patients to work with physicians to determine a cause of the sleep disorder. This is especially important given that the targeted treatment of sleep disorders is likely to improve sleep quality and therefore improve quality of life.”

It is claimed to be very crucial to identify depression during or after head and neck cancer treatment. They investigators further cautioned that physicians can avoid medications causing side effects like dry mouth while treating head and neck cancer patients.

The study is published online in the journal The Laryngoscope.