PURPOSE: This prospective, longitudinal study was aimed to describe the prevalence, severity, and pattern of symptoms over the course of radiation therapy in persons with nasopharyngeal carcinoma and to explore symptom severity by treatment modality. DESCRIPTION OF STUDY: Thirty-seven patients completed this study, and 46% received chemotherapy before radiation therapy. A self-reported radiation symptom checklist and an objective mucositis assessment tool were used weekly to document oropharyngeal, skin, nose or ear, or more general side effects, and mucositis. RESULTS: Oropharyngeal problems were the most severe complaints during radiation therapy. All patients experienced dry mouth, taste change, difficulty in swallowing, difficulty in opening their mouths, hoarseness, sore throat, and observable mucositis. Most reported moderate-to-severe dry mouth, difficulty in swallowing and sore throat from weeks 3 through 7. Skin problems were not prominent until week 4. Patients also lost an average of 3.9 kg during the therapy. Sequential chemotherapy and radiation therapy was associated with more severe oropharyngeal problems than radiation therapy alone, but no significant differences in other problems were found. CLINICAL IMPLICATIONS: Despite recognition of the oropharyngeal side effects associated with irradiation, effective management protocols for such symptoms have not been implemented in the studied institution. The frequency and intensity of the symptoms reported indicate an urgent need for increased vigilance about radiation-related side effects and pain management. As well, patient education about expected side effects may help mitigate the anxiety that patients experience when these symptoms occur.
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