Background & aims: Malnutrition in head and neck cancer (HNC) patients is associated with increased morbidity and mortality. The purpose of this study is two-fold: to identify the risk of malnutrition in patients with oropharyngeal dysphagia (OD) secondary to HNC, and to determine the relationship between the risk of malnutrition versus tumor characteristics, treatment modality, time interval (between the end of oncological treatment and swallowing assessment date), level of oral intake, body mass index (BMI), aspiration, pharyngeal pooling, and OD-related quality of life (QoL).

Methods: The Short Nutritional Assessment Questionnaire (SNAQ) was used to screen patients for the risk of malnutrition. Patients underwent a standardized swallowing examination protocol including an endoscopic evaluation of swallowing.

Results: Seventy-five dysphagic HNC patients were included. Forty-eight percent of the patients presented a high risk of malnutrition using SNAQ. The majority of the patients (81.3%) was on a total oral diet. Moreover, BMI did not appear to be a reliable measure to screen for malnutrition as a normal BMI was often associated with an increased risk of malnutrition on the SNAQ. In contrast, patients who were underweight or overweight did not show an association with a high risk of malnutrition. With the exception of BMI, no other patient and tumor characteristics were found to be associated with the risk of malnutrition.

Conclusions: This study emphasizes the importance of early nutritional screening in dysphagic HNC patients, as almost half of these patients presented a high risk of malnutrition. Malnutrition screening using SNAQ can identify HNC patients with OD who are at risk of malnutrition and subsequently need to be referred to a dietician for additional nutritional assessment, diagnosis of malnutrition, and nutritional support, even when their BMI is within normal range. (C) 2021 The Author(s). Published by Elsevier Ltd on behalf of European Society for Clinical Nutrition and Metabolism.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)348-355
Number of pages8
JournalClinical Nutrition ESPEN
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2021


  • Malnutrition
  • Dysphagia
  • Deglutition
  • Head and neck cancer
  • TOOL

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