Quantitative Evaluation of Head and Neck Cancer Treatment–Related Dysphagia in the Development of a Personalized Treatment Deintensification Paradigm


      To test the hypothesis that quantifying swallow function with multiple patient-reported outcome (PRO) instruments is an important strategy to yield insights in the development of personalized deintensified therapies seeking to reduce the risk of head and neck cancer (HNC) treatment–related dysphagia (HNCTD).

      Methods and Materials

      Irradiated HNC subjects seen in follow-up care (April 2015 to December 2015) who prospectively completed the Sydney Swallow Questionnaire (SSQ) and the MD Anderson Dysphagia Inventory (MDADI) concurrently on the web interface to our Oncospace database were evaluated. A correlation matrix quantified the relationship between the SSQ and MDADI. Machine-learning unsupervised cluster analysis using the elbow criterion and CLUSPLOT analysis to establish its validity was performed.


      We identified 89 subjects. The MDADI and SSQ scores were moderately but significantly correlated (correlation coefficient −0.69). K-means cluster analysis demonstrated that 3 unique statistical cohorts (elbow criterion) could be identified with CLUSPLOT analysis, confirming that 100% of variances were accounted for. Correlation coefficients between the individual items in the SSQ and the MDADI demonstrated weak to moderate negative correlation, except for SSQ17 (quality of life question).


      Pilot analysis demonstrates that the MDADI and SSQ are complementary. Three unique clusters of patients can be defined, suggesting that a unique dysphagia signature for HNCTD may be definable. Longitudinal studies relying on only a single PRO, such as MDADI, may be inadequate for classifying HNCTD.
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