Background: Early palliative care (EPC) benefits some cancers, but its clinical outcomes differ depending on patients’ racial and ethnic disparities, and customs. To determine whether EPC improves symptoms, emotional distress, and quality of life among Taiwanese patients with early or advanced-stage head and neck cancer (HNC).

Methods: Based on participants’ pathological stages, they were categorized as having early and advanced-stage HNC. Those willing and unwilling to undergo EPC were assigned to the EPC and standard groups, respectively. Their daily cancer-related symptoms were assessed using the Distress Thermometer (DT) and MD Anderson Symptom Inventory (MDASI), whose scores’ concurrent validity was evaluated using the European Organization for Research and Treatment of Core Quality of Life (EORTC-QLQ-C30) and Head and Neck 35 (EORTC-QLQ-H&N35) questionnaires.

Results: Patients (n = 93) diagnosed with HNC at Taiwan’s Chia-Yi Christian Hospital from November 2020 to October 2022 were recruited. The patients voluntarily split into two groups: EPC groups and standard groups (23 and 11 in early-stage; 46 and 13 in advanced-stage, respectively). DT assessment showed significant emotional distress improvements for all patients with HNC who received EPC. The EORTC-QLQ-C30 questionnaire indicated that, compared to standard interventions, EPC groups significantly improved the quality of life and some symptoms for both early and advanced-stage HNC patients. However, the EORTC-QLQH&N35 questionnaire found no significant difference between the two groups. Furthermore, advanced-stage patients’ anticancer treatment completion rates with EPC and standard interventions were 95.35% and 75%, respectively.

Conclusion: EPC improves symptoms, emotional distress, quality of life, and treatment completion rates in Taiwanese patients with early or advanced-stage HNC. Nonetheless, further extensive clinical studies are required for validation.

Keywords: Early/advanced-stage; Early palliative care; Head and neck cancer; Quality of life; Treatment completion rates.

Effectiveness of early palliative care in patients with head and neck cancer in Taiwan