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Gaps in depression symptom management for patients with head and neck cancer


Objective — To understand practice patterns and identify care gaps within a large-scale depression screening program for patients with head and neck cancer (HNC).

Study Design
— Retrospective cohort study.

— This was a population-based study of adults diagnosed with a HNC between January 2007 and October 2020. Each patient was observed from time of first symptom assessment until end of study date, or death. The exposure of interest was a positive depressive symptom screen on the Edmonton Symptom Assessment System (ESAS). Outcomes of interest included psychiatry/psychology assessment, social work referral, or palliative care assessment. Cause specific hazard models with a time-varying exposure were used to investigate the exposure-outcome relationships.

— Of 14,054 patients with HNC, 9016 (64.2%) reported depressive symptoms on at least one ESAS assessment. Within 60 days of first reporting depressive symptoms, 223 (2.7%) received a psychiatry assessment, 646 (7.9%) a social work referral, and 1131 (13.9%) a palliative care assessment. Rates of psychiatry/psychology assessment (HR 3.15 [95% CI 2.67–3.72]), social work referral (HR 1.83 [95% CI 1.64–2.02]), and palliative care assessment (HR 2.34 [95% CI 2.19–2.50]) were higher for those screening positive for depression. Certain patient populations were less likely to receive an assessment including the elderly, rural residents, and those without a prior psychiatric history.

— A high proportion of head and neck patients report depressive symptoms, though this triggers a referral in a small number of cases. These data highlight areas for improvement in depression screening care pathways.



Noel CW, Sutradhar R, Chan WC, Fu R, Philteos J, Forner D, Irish JC, Vigod S, Isenberg-Grzeda E, Coburn NG, Hallet J, Eskander A. Laryngoscope. 2023; 133(10):2638-46. Epub 2023 Feb 7.

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