Patients with cancer experience multiple neuropsychiatric symptoms. Whereas individual symptoms have been studied in patients with head and neck cancer, the broader context of neuropsychiatric symptoms needs to be explored.
The aims of this pilot study were to (a) determine the caregiver-reported prevalence and severity of neuropsychiatric symptoms in patients with head and neck cancer, (b) determine the associated level of caregiver distress, and (c) describe the effects of neuropsychiatric symptoms on patients and their caregivers.
Twenty-three family caregivers of patients with head and neck cancer completed the Neuropsychiatric Inventory Questionnaire and participated in a semistructured interview.
All caregivers reported that patients experienced at least 1 neuropsychiatric symptom (mean, 7.5; range, 1–12). The most frequently reported symptoms were trouble with appetite and eating (95.7%), altered nighttime behaviors (82.6%), depression/dysphoria (78.3%), decreased alertness (69.6%), inattention (60.9%), apathy/indifference (56.5%), anxiety (56.5%), irritability/lability (52.5%), agitation/aggression (52.2%), and slowed behavior (43.5%). The mean severity rating for 9 symptoms was moderate to severe. Most symptoms caused mild to moderate levels of caregiver distress. Qualitative data indicated that neuropsychiatric symptoms negatively affected patients, their caregivers, and other family members. Patients required more caregiver support resulting in increased caregiver burden and distress.
Neuropsychiatric symptoms are common and troubling in patients with head and neck cancer during treatment. Further investigation of their effects on patients and family caregivers is needed.
Implications for Practice:
Clinicians should monitor for and treat neuropsychiatric symptoms throughout treatment and provide caregiver and patient education and support.