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Original Article
October 2002

Development of a New Head and Neck Cancer–Specific Comorbidity Index

Author Affiliations

From the Clinical Outcomes Research Office, Departments of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery (Drs Piccirillo, Lacy, and Basu) and Mathematics (Dr Spitznagel), Washington University School of Medicine, St Louis, Mo.

Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2002;128(10):1172-1179. doi:10.1001/archotol.128.10.1172

Background  Most patients with head and neck squamous cell carcinoma are older and may have coexistent or comorbid diseases.

Objectives  To determine the prognostic impact of individual comorbid conditions in patients with head and neck cancer, to combine the individual comorbid conditions to form a new a head and neck–specific comorbidity instrument, and to compare it with the Modified Kaplan-Feinstein Index to determine if the new disease-specific instrument offers any improvement in survival prediction over a general comorbidity index.

Design  Retrospective review of medical records.

Population  The study population comprised 1153 patients with biopsy-proven, newly diagnosed squamous cell carcinoma of the oral cavity, oropharynx, or larynx.

Results  Seven comorbid conditions (congestive heart disease, cardiac arrhythmia, peripheral vascular disease, pulmonary disease, renal disease, cancer controlled, and cancer uncontrolled) were significantly related to survival. These comorbid conditions were assigned integer weights to reflect their relative prognostic importance and combined to create the new Washington University Head and Neck Comorbidity Index (WUHNCI). Survival was significantly related to levels of comorbidity severity as defined by the WUHNCI. The WUHNCI predicted survival better than the Modified Kaplan-Feinstein Index despite containing far fewer ailments.

Conclusions  Comorbidity is an important feature of the patient with head and neck cancer. The WUHNCI can be used for retrospective review or prospective outcomes research.