The purpose of this study was to develop and validate an instrument for clinical trials to measure radiation-related acute morbidity and quality of life from the perspective of patients with head and neck cancer (HNC) treated with radiotherapy.
The Head and Neck Radiotherapy Questionnaire (HNRQ) was developed by a panel of health care workers and patients, was pretested in a pilot study of HNC patients, and was validated in a randomized double-blind trial of concomitant fluorouracil (FUra) infusional therapy (1.2 g/m2 per 24 hours) or saline placebo administered for 72 hours in the first and third weeks of a 6 1/2-week course of radiation therapy. The HNRQ was validated against existing toxicity and performance status indices, all of which were measured weekly for the 6 1/2 weeks of treatment and for 4 weeks posttreatment.
There were three a priori constructs: (1) that the HNRQ scores would conform to a shallow U-shaped pattern to reflect declining quality of life (increasing morbidity) during radiation and recovery posttreatment; (2) that the HNRQ would correlate with existing toxicity indices (World Health Organization [WHO] stomatitis, Byfield stomatitis, WHO skin toxicity, Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group [ECOG] and Karnofsky performance status); and (3) that the HNRQ would discriminate between FUra and placebo groups. The HNRQ and its domain scores all showed a change from baseline reflecting increased morbidity during radiation (analysis of variance [ANOVA], P < .00001). The HNRQ correlated well with all other indices (r > or = .60), and domain scores correlated best with other indices that assess the same symptom complex (eg, HNRQ skin domain and WHO skin toxicity index, r = .77). There was a significant difference in HNRQ scores between the FUra and placebo groups during radiation (ANOVA, P = .0007), and all HNRQ domains also discriminated between the treatment groups.
The HNRQ is a valid measure of acute morbidity due to radiation therapy in patients with locally advanced HNC, and may be useful as an outcome measure for future clinical trials of radiation treatment strategies.