The European Head and Neck Cancer Society (EHNS) has released new recommendations for the best practice management of psycho-oncologic aspects of head and neck cancer. The article, published online on the Annals of Oncology website, provides practical advice to support physicians in delivering optimal care.
Head and Neck cancer is the sixth most common cancer worldwide, and kills over 132,000 people across Europe each year. It is often diagnosed at a late stage, where treatment options may not be curative, or are associated with serious post-treatment impact. Studies have reported that people with head and neck cancer suffer from mental health conditions and psychological distress more often than other cancer patients,1 with patients in the US being up to four-times as likely to commit suicide as the general population.2
Treatment to remove tumours from the head and neck region can result in facial disfigurement, or impaired physical functions such as speaking, eating and breathing. These outcomes are distressing for patients. The new recommendations, developed by a multidisciplinary group of experts in the field of head and neck cancer as part of the EHNS's Make Sense Campaign, seek to encourage greater psychological support for patients throughout every stage of their cancer journey.1 This support would be beneficial in helping patients achieve the best possible results from their treatment, and ultimately improving their health outcomes.
"Surgical and therapeutic advances are helping physicians to prolong patient lives in head and neck cancer." said Professor Jean Louis Lefebvre, President of EHNS. "However, physicians now face a new challenge in providing adequate psychological support to patients as they adjust to life with sometimes significant physical, and emotional, scars."
Professor René Leemans, Secretary of the EHNS added, "Through the development of these robust recommendations we have reviewed every stage of the patient journey from the point of diagnosis to post-treatment, and identified the best management practices available to the healthcare professionals involved in the treatment of head and neck cancer. We are confident that if these steps are followed, healthcare professionals can make notable improvements to head and neck cancer patient's lives."
The EHNS recommendations provide guidance to healthcare professionals, highlighting the available tools to support their role of communicating medical information to patients, the type of responses and psychological effects they can expect in patients, and how best to manage them.
One of the main recommendations is that each patient should be allocated a contact person to support them through every stage of their journey. This individual should offer practical support (such as encouraging attendance at hospital appointments or how to fit treatment around daily life); monitor for changes in the patient's mental health; and ensure the patient has access to the support they require.
These recommendations aim to simply and effectively support healthcare professionals in providing the best possible care to the patients, and ultimately leading to improved patient's outcomes.