BACKGROUND: Evaluation of quality of life (QOL) measures is increasingly being valued as an essential parameter to determine treatment results after head and neck reconstruction. The present study was designed to evaluate the effect of microsurgical reconstruction on patient-reported QOL. METHODS: Patients undergoing microsurgical reconstruction after radical oncosurgical ablation of head and neck malignancies from March 2007 to March 2010 were included in the study. To assess health-related QOL, the following questionnaires were sent to patients who met inclusion criteria: European Organization for Research and Treatment of Cancer (EORTC) Core Quality of Life Questionnaire (QLQ-C30 [Version 3.0]) and Head and Neck Cancer Quality of Life Questionnaire (QLQ-H and N35). RESULTS: A total of 60 patients underwent microsurgical reconstruction of postablative head and neck defects during the study period. Twenty-one patients were successfully contacted, all of which completed the surveys. Satisfactory global QOL scores were achieved. Advanced age correlated with greater impairment for the ability to taste and smell (P = 0.05). Radiotherapy seemed to be associated with "sticky saliva"; although this was not statistically significant (P = 0.06). Recurrent disease at the time of surgical ablation and microsurgical reconstruction did not seem to have any appreciable impact on QOL. Finally, patients who developed postoperative complications had lower levels of "cognitive functioning" (P = 0.04), problems with "insomnia" (P = 0.04) and "social contact" (P = 0.03), and more commonly "felt ill" (P = 0.03). CONCLUSIONS: Improved global QOL scores were observed after microsurgical reconstruction of various head and neck defects when compared to reported pretreatment scores. Of the parameters analyzed, it seems that postoperative complications have the most profound effect on items assessed with the EORTC QLQ-C30 and H and N35 surveys. Our findings provide further scientific evidence that patients with head and neck malignancy benefit from surgical intervention with respect to postoperative QOL.
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