Oral health-related quality of life after radiation therapy for head and neck cancer: the OraRad study

Lauren L. Patton, Erika S. Helgeson, Michael T. Brennan, Nathaniel S. Treister, Thomas P. Sollecito, Brian L. Schmidt, Alexander Lin, Bhishamjit S. Chera, Rajesh V. Lalla

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: Head and neck cancer (HNC) treatment results in morbidity impacting quality of life (QOL) in survivorship. This analysis evaluated changes in oral health-related QOL (OH-QOL) up to 2 years after curative intent radiation therapy (RT) for HNC patients and factors associated with these changes. Methods: 572 HNC patients participated in a multicenter, prospective observational study (OraRad). Data collected included sociodemographic, tumor, and treatment variables. Ten single-item questions and 2 composite scales of swallowing problems and senses problems (taste and smell) from a standard QOL instrument were assessed before RT and at 6-month intervals after RT. Results: The most persistently impacted OH-QOL variables at 24 months included: dry mouth; sticky saliva, and senses problems. These measures were most elevated at the 6-month visit. Aspects of swallowing were most impacted by oropharyngeal tumor site, chemotherapy, and non-Hispanic ethnicity. Problems with senses and dry mouth were worse with older age. Dry mouth and sticky saliva increased more among men and those with oropharyngeal cancer, nodal involvement, and use of chemotherapy. Problems with mouth opening were increased by chemotherapy and were more common among non-White and Hispanic individuals. A 1000 cGy increase in RT dose was associated with a clinically meaningful change in difficulty swallowing solid food, dry mouth, sticky saliva, sense of taste, and senses problems. Conclusions: Demographic, tumor, and treatment variables impacted OH-QOL for HNC patients up to 2 years after RT. Dry mouth is the most intense and sustained toxicity of RT that negatively impacts OH-QOL of HNC survivors. ClinicalTrials.gov Identifier: NCT02057510; first posted February 7, 2014.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number286
JournalSupportive Care in Cancer
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2023


  • Dry mouth
  • Head and neck cancer
  • Quality of life
  • Radiation therapy
  • Senses problems

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology


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