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Early Nutrition Support in Head and Neck Cancer

By Lauren Green
Head and Neck Cancer Researchers presenting findings at the 2014 ONS Congress reported that many oncologists who are treating patients with head and neck cancer are proactively starting these patients on enteral nutrition (EN) support to avert malnutrition in a population which is especially vulnerable to this complication of this diagnosis and treatment.

Noreen Luszcz, RD, MBS, CNSC, and Donna Ford, RN, BSN, of Walgreens Infusion Services in Deerfield, Illinois, conducted a randomized, retrospective review of medical records of 172 patients receiving EN and found that 50% of these patients had their gastrostomy tubes placed prior to beginning treatment for head or neck cancer.

Notably, only 8% of these patients had severe malnutrition at the start of therapy, whereas 17% had malnutrition classified as moderate and 55% mild. For 27% of patients, the goal was weight gain, and for 64%, weight maintenance. Of the 62 patients who completed EN (average length = 131 days), 46% met their initial goal, and of patients remaining on EN, 70% were progressing toward their goal.

The infusion clinicians stressed that “it is important to incorporate early nutrition screening into the care plans of cancer patients to identify and treat those who may be at risk for malnutrition.”

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