To eat is to practice—managing eating problems after head and neck cancer
The purpose of this qualitative study was twofold: (1) to explore head and neck cancer (HNC) survivors’ experiences of everyday life with eating problems after cancer treatment and (2) to explore their experiences of participating in a multidisciplinary residential rehabilitation program with a primary focus on physical, psychological, and social aspects of eating problems after treatment.
Semi-structured focus group interviews were conducted with 40 Danish HNC survivors who participated in a 5-day residential rehabilitation program with follow-up after 3 months. The transcribed interviews were analyzed through qualitative content analysis.
Physical nutrition impact symptoms and unmet needs for support were frequent. Participants experienced a feeling of loss due to impaired eating abilities. Eating had become an obligation or a training situation, and the eating problems challenged the relationship with their relatives when well-meaning encouragement was perceived as a pressure. Social eating was a challenge, and this often led to social withdrawal. The residential program was a safe and supportive environment to practice eating skills, and participants benefited from meeting peers. The program provided participants with knowledge and skills that many of them had been missing during and after treatment.
Eating problems after treatment have substantial effects on the everyday life of HNC survivors. A multidisciplinary residential rehabilitation program may be beneficial to meet their rehabilitation needs.
Implications for Cancer Survivors
The results are useful for future planning of rehabilitation services and clinical studies that may contribute to improving current clinical practice and benefit HNC survivors.
KeywordsHead and neck cancer Survivorship Rehabilitation Nutrition impact symptoms Eating problems Quality of life
Head and neck cancer
Nutrition impact symptoms
Quality of life
We wish to thank all study participants for their valuable contributions. Furthermore, we wish to thank the health care professionals and other staff at RcDallund and REHPA who delivered the targeted residential rehabilitation program. Finally, we thank Vicky L. Joshi, MSc, for proofreading the manuscript.
This study received external funding from Innovation Fund Denmark (grant no. 6171-00009B) and from Rigshospitalet’s and Odense University Hospital’s research fund for research collaboration between the two hospitals (grant no. 38-A2016).
Compliance with ethical standards
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.
Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.
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