Dr. Eleanor O’Sullivan, Cork Dental School & Hospital
Health Research Board
Cancer inflicts a formidable physical, psychological and socio-economic burden on patients, their families and health-care providers. This is particularly true for head & neck cancer which accounts for 600,000 new cases worldwide each year, and over 200,000 deaths. Research in other countries among people living with other types of cancer suggests that many have considerable ongoing needs for medical and non-medical supportive care over their lifetime, but that their needs are not being met by existing services. To date, there has been little research among head & neck cancer survivors. This study aims to undertake a comprehensive assessment of the unmet supportive care needs in head & neck cancer survivors, and investigate the concerns and recommendations of health professionals faced with their long-term management.
We are using two complementary methods to investigate this complex topic: (1) in-depth face-to-face interviews with both health professionals providing supportive care to survivors of head & neck cancer, and head & neck cancer survivors themselves; and (2) a national postal questionnaire survey of survivors to quantify levels of unmet needs.. The in-depth interviews focused on what types of supportive care needs survivors have, whether these are being met, the perceived barriers faced by both survivors of head & neck cancer and by health professionals attempting to address survivors’ needs, and any gaps/limitations in current services. The survey was completed by 583 head and neck cancer survivors from across Ireland and will allow us to find out what proportion of survivors of head & neck cancer have unmet needs and who is at most risk. Data collection from the project is complete and analysis is underway.
The findings will be important for survivors, their families, support organisations, health professionals and service planners/providers. We hope that the study will stimulate improvements in support services, thereby ensuring that the support needs of survivors of head & neck cancer are met and that they have optimal quality-of-life and can live as full lives as possible.