Potential for low-value palliative care of patients with recurrent head and neck cancer

Marci L Nilsen, Jonas T Johnson
Lancet Oncology 2017, 18 (5): e284-e289
Curative treatment for patients with advanced head and neck cancer can be associated with many side-effects, and many patients suffer from persistent treatment-related side-effects. Patients with recurrent cancer bear the burden of these effects along with additional symptoms attributed to the recurrent tumour. To better understand the benefits and burden of palliative treatments for patients with recurrent head and neck cancer, we reviewed the evidence on commonly used palliative treatments and their effect on quality of life. When used for palliative care purposes, chemotherapy and radiotherapy have limited effectiveness in improving quality of life. Moreover, if these treatments are not congruent with a patient's end-of-life goals, they could constitute low-value care. We recommend that patients with advanced and recurrent cancer should be offered early, comprehensive palliative and supportive services to maximise benefit. The principles of beneficence and respect for patients in the context of shared decision making must prevail if the trust of this vulnerable patient population is to be honoured.

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