Treatment interruption among head and neck cancer patients undergoing radical radiotherapy

  • MM Solomon
  • JF Onyango
  • LO Nyabola
  • A Opiyo
  • ML Chindia


Objective: To determine the incidence of treatment interruption among head and neck cancer patients undergoing radical radiotherapy.
Design: Prospective study
Setting: Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH), Nairobi.
Subjects: Twenty six (M=16, F=10) patients undergoing radiotherapy for head and neck cancer between March and June 2006.
Main outcome measures: Frequency of radiation morbidities and treatment interuptions.
Results: There were 26 patients consisting of 16 males and 10 females aged between 21 and 70 years (mean = 49.6 years). Among these patients 12 (46.2%) had tumours in the oral cavity, six (23.1%) had nasopharyngeal tumours, two (7.7%) had pharyngeal tumours, and six (23.1%) had laryngeal tumours. All tumours were primary carcinomas except two pharyngeal tumours which were metastatic. Among the 26 patients, 13(50%) completed the course of radiotherapy within the prescribed duration while another 13(50%) had treatment interruption. Of the 13 patients who had treatment interruption, one patient had a treatment gap of four days, seven patients had treatment gaps ranging between six and ten days, and five patients had treatment gaps of over ten days. The duration of treatment gaps ranged between four and 30 days. At the time of treatment interruption the cumulative radiation dose ranged from 22 to 58 Grey with a mean of 38 Grey (Mode = 44 Grey). The most common side effect was xerostomia (92%). This was closely followed by mucositis (88.5%), skin reactions (88.5%) dysphagia (84.5%) pain and suffering (76.9%). Loss of taste (61.5%), trismus (34.6%) and voice change (30.89%) were relatively less common.
Conclusion: Our findings show that the probability of cancer control and cure among head and neck cancer patients treated at KNH could be severely eroded by treatment interruptions as a result of severe radiation morbidity.

Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 0012-835X