Cancer survivors face poor quality of life

That is according to a recent study1 undertaken by the University of Iowa, which concluded that a large percentage of long-term survivors of head and neck cancer have poor oral function, resulting in persistent eating problems and long term depression.

More than half of respondents (51.6 per cent) reported problems with eating, while on average one in four survivors still experienced speech problems who lived for five or more years.

It was a similar story when it came to a patient’s physical and mental health, with more than a third (36.7 per cent and 39.3 per cent respectively) recording low functionality after the five year analysis.

Mouth cancer campaigners have recently estimated 6,000 people in the UK contracted the disease in 2011, and while early detection can transform survival rates to 90 per cent, without it one in two will die.

According to Chief Executive of the British Dental Health Foundation, Dr Nigel Carter, the study highlights the problems mouth cancer sufferers face.

Dr Carter said: “The results of the study show the scale of the problems mouth cancer patients have to live with. The corrective surgery required to remove cancerous cells often leaves physical and emotional scars that can take years to heal.

“While all cancer patients require a great deal of care, those recovering from mouth cancer clearly suffer from the after-effects of surgery, both physically and mentally.”

While Dr Carter also suggested the results show patients need as much support from the health service as possible, a loophole in the NHS means problems may be compounded, as mouth cancer patients have no guarantee that their restorative dental treatment will be paid for by the NHS.

As a result of this loophole, campaigners are calling for the inequality to be put right in the new commissioning arrangements for NHS dental contracts to make sure that mouth cancer sufferers are exempt from dental charges. An e-petition form2 has been established to seek professional and public support, and is sufficient signatures are obtained it will prompt debate of the issue in the House of Commons.

Dr Carter added: “Supporting the e-petition will not only bring the issue into the public limelight, it will help to improve the quality of life for mouth cancer patients.”


Editor’s notes

1. Gerry F. Funk, MD., Lucy Hynds Karnell, PhD., and Alan J. Christensen, PhD; Long-term Health-Related Quality of Life in Survivors of Head and Neck Cancer; Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg; Published online January 16, 2012; doi:10.1001/archoto.2011.234

2. The E-petition is available here.