Patients with head and neck cancer who reported poorer sleeping quality a year after their diagnoses had more symptoms of chronic pain and complaints of dry mouth related to radiation treatments, according to a new study from the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center in Ann Arbor.
Because these side effects can be controlled or modified, the study suggested that reducing these factors in caring for head and neck cancer patients could assist in helping to improve sleep and enhance quality of life, the researchers said.
However, earlier UM studies have shown that head and neck cancer patients who reported lower physical quality of life were more likely to die from their disease.
Sleep disturbances are common complaints among head and neck cancer patients, the researchers said. They have been shown to decrease quality of life, decrease mental health, and serve as a predictor of other complications in the treatment of the cancer.
The disturbances also could negatively affect the immune system and its ability to deal with stresses of the diagnosis, said senior study author Jeffrey Terrell, MD, a professor of otolaryngology at the UM Medical School.
Also, some cancer patients in general may have greater issues such as facial disfigurements and side effects from treatments that can alter speech. These problems could lead to breathing problems, which can impact sleep, said study author Sonia Duffy, PhD, RN, an associate professor of nursing at the UM School of Nursing and otolaryngology at the UM Medical School and research scientist at the VA's Ann Arbor Healthcare System.