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Pain Level May Predict Survival in Certain Cancer Patients

Discomfort should be monitored in those with head and neck malignancies, researchers say

MONDAY, Aug. 17 (HealthDay News) -- Higher levels of post-treatment pain in head and neck cancer patients appear to be associated with lower survival rates, U.S. researchers have found.

Their study included 339 patients who provided information about their health and quality of life at diagnosis and three, six, nine and 12 months later. They also rated their post-treatment pain.

"Pain was associated with age, general physical and mental health conditions, depressive symptoms, survival rate and recurrence within the first year," wrote Dr. Joseph Scharpf and colleagues at the University of Iowa.

"The five-year survival rate was 81.8 percent for patients with low post-treatment pain and 65.1 percent for those with high pain. Post-treatment pain and tumor site were independent predictors of recurrence. Pain level, age and treatment modality were independent predictors of five-year survival," the researchers found.

"The prevalence of post-treatment pain within the first year after diagnosis of head and neck cancer suggests that physicians are not adequately addressing this issue, even though pain is associated with health-related quality of life and recurrent disease," the study authors noted.

"Appropriate monitoring can be accomplished through the routine collection of pain as the fifth vital sign," they said. "Proper treatment, including an initial workup for recurrent disease, should be provided using a comprehensive, multidisciplinary approach."

The study appears in the August issue of the journal Archives of Otolaryngology -- Head & Neck Surgery.

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more about head and neck cancer.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: JAMA/Archives journals, news release, Aug. 17, 2009

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