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Psychosocial Interventions for Patients With Head and Neck Cancer: Past, Present, and Future

Semple, Cherith J. BSc(Hons) Nursing; Sullivan, Kate DPhil; Dunwoody, Lynn DPhil; Kernohan, W. George PhD


A diagnosis of head and neck cancer, like any cancer diagnosis, is often accompanied by much fear and uncertainty. In addition, patients with head and neck cancer face difficulties in eating, chewing, drinking, breathing, speaking, as well as changes in appearance. Simultaneously, the burden of head and neck cancer is often manifested in psychosocial dysfunction, which can have a negative impact on quality of life. Although a phenomenon well recognized, little is known about many factors that influence or impact psychosocial dysfunction in individuals with head and neck cancer. Even less is known about the effective management of psychosocial dysfunction. To date, there is evidence to suggest that psychosocial interventions generally provide an overall positive effect. Moreover, some intervention studies, such as education alone, have failed to achieve the desired results. In addition, some studies suggest an advantage of cognitive- behavioral therapy over other forms of psychological treatment. With the growing impetus to investigate factors associated with psychosocial dysfunction, and considerable advancement in the development and validation of many global and disease-specific measures, there is an opportunity for further research to develop an appropriate clinical intervention program for such patients.

School of Nursing (Ms Semple and Drs Sullivan and Kernohan) and School of Rehabilitation Science (Dr Dunwoody), University of Ulster, Shore Rd, Newtownabbey, Northern Ireland.

Corresponding author: Cherith J. Semple, BSc(Hons) Nursing, School of Nursing, University of Ulster, Shore Rd, Newtownabbey, Northern Ireland BT37 0QB. (e-mail:

This study was supported by the Research and Development Office for the Department of Health and Social Services and Public Safety.

Accepted for publication May 18, 2004.

© 2004 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.