In an effort to evaluate quality-of-life benefits of ablative head and neck cancer surgery and microvascular reconstruction, a longitudinal study was undertaken in which patients with T3 or T4 oropharyngeal cancers without systemic metastases at presentation were administered both general and disease-specific quality-of-life instruments preoperatively and postoperatively. In an initial prospective pilot study, 17 cancer patients were evaluated both preoperatively and postoperatively using the Medical Outcomes Short-Form Health Survey questionnaire (SF-36) and the Performance Status Scale for Head and Neck Cancer Patients. In the second part of the study, the need was recognized for a different disease-specific measure, for more frequent intervals of longitudinal follow-up (rather than be limited by a single data collection point), and for a noncancer control group. Since then, 17 more cancer patients were evaluated in the second part of the study and were compared with patients who had similar reconstructions after suffering head and neck trauma and also with age-matched controls. Instead of the performance status scale, the University of Washington Head and Neck Quality of Life questionnaire was substituted. Interval assessments were done at 1, 3, 6, and 12 months and preoperatively. Whereas many of the general and disease-specific quality of life subclasses initially worsened following extensive surgery and radiation therapy, most returned to the preoperative baseline by 6 months following conclusion of treatment and surpassed pretreatment values at 1 year. It can be concluded, based on this study, that large resections and reconstructions for head and neck cancer patients are justified in terms of outcome; the resection controls the local disease, and the microvascular reconstruction restores quality of life and functional status.
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