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The incidence of trismus and long-term impact on health-related quality of life in patients with head and neck cancer.

Journal article
Authors Nina Pauli
Joakim Johnson
Caterina Finizia
Paulin Andréll
Published in Acta oncologica (Stockholm, Sweden)
Volume 52
Issue 6
Pages 1137-1145
ISSN 1651-226X
Publication year 2013
Published at Institute of Clinical Sciences, Department of Otorhinolaryngology
Institute of Medicine, Department of Molecular and Clinical Medicine
Pages 1137-1145
Language en
Subject categories Otorhinolaryngology, Cancer and Oncology


Background. Trismus is a common symptom related to the treatment of head and neck (H&N) cancer. To date there are few prospective studies regarding the incidence of trismus and the patients' experience of trismus in daily life activities. The aim of the study was to assess the incidence of trismus in H&N cancer patients and the impact on health-related quality of life (HRQL), by evaluating the patients before and after oncological treatment. Material and methods. We used the criteria for trismus of maximum interincisal opening (MIO) ≤ 35 mm and measured the patients at several occasions before and after treatment during one year. The patients answered the HRQL questionnaires EORTC QLQ C30, EORTC QLQ H&N 35, Gothenburg Trismus Questionnaire (GTQ) and the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS). Results. The incidence of trismus was 9% pre-treatment and 28% at the one-year follow-up post-treatment. The highest incidence, 38%, was found six months post-treatment. Patients with tumours of the tonsils were most prone to develop trismus. Patients with trismus reported greater HRQL impairments with regard to the GTQ domains; mouth opening (p < 0.001), jaw-related problems (p < 0.05), eating limitations (p < 0.05) and muscular tension (p < 0.001) six months post-treatment. EORTC QLQ H&N 35 scores indicated clinically significantly more problems with dry mouth, swallowing and pain for patients with trismus, 6-12 months post-treatment. Furthermore, all patients reported pain, anxiety and depression pre- and post-treatment. Conclusion. The incidence of trismus in patients with H&N cancer is non-negligible. Trismus severely impairs HRQL and negatively affects daily life activities in patients with H&N cancer. Further studies regarding symptomatic treatment of patients with trismus are highly warranted. The symptom-specific questionnaire GTQ is useful to identify the problems in this group of patients given it is responsive to showing change over time.

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