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Nutritional support of patients undergoing radiation therapy for head and neck cancer.

Malnutrition plays a key role in the morbidity of head and neck cancer patients receiving surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, or combined-modality therapy. In addition to weight lost prior to the diagnosis of head and neck cancer, the patient may lose an additional 10% of pretherapy body weight during radiotherapy or combined-modality treatment. A reduction of greater than 20% of total body weight results in an increase in toxicity and mortality. Severe toxicity can result in prolonged treatment time, which has been implicated in poor clinical outcome. Early intervention with nutritional supplementation can reduce the chance of inferior outcome in patients at high risk of weight loss. The preferred route of nutritional support for these patients is enteral nutrition. Two commonly used methods for enteral feedings are nasoenteric and percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy. It is important to take into account the ethical considerations involved in providing long-term nutritional support, particularly for patients with terminal conditions. Nutritional directives are best evaluated through multidisciplinary efforts, including input from the patient as well as members of the nursing, nutritionist, and medical staff.

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