Identifying Gaps in Research on Rehabilitation for Patients With Head and Neck Cancer: A Scoping Review



      Examine the amount and nature of research activity in head and neck cancer (HNC) rehabilitation; highlight publication trends, including information about the authors, settings, and study designs; and identify gaps in the existing literature.

      Data Sources

      Eligible studies were identified using PubMed, Embase, and CINAHL databases.

      Study Selection

      Inclusion criteria included human subjects, English language, publication between 1/1/1990 and 4/30/2017, HNC patients at any timepoint in disease, and evaluation of rehabilitation outcomes as described by the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF) framework. Exclusion criteria included intervention or outcome not specific to rehabilitation or the HNC population, and protocols or abstracts without corresponding full manuscripts.

      Data Extraction

      An established 6-step scoping review framework was utilized to develop the review protocol. A 3-level review was then performed. Data on eligible studies were collected using a Research Electronic Data Capture (REDCap) tool.

      Data Synthesis

      Among 2201 publications, 258 met inclusion criteria. Publication rate increased by 390% over the study timeframe. Most studies were observational (n=150). Few were interventional (n=35). The most common interventions focused on chewing or swallowing (n=14), followed by exercise (n=10). Most primary outcome measures fit the ICF definition of impairment; fewer fit the definitions of activity limitation or participation restriction.


      Although research volume in HNC rehabilitation is increasing, the literature is dominated by small (≤100 patients), outpatient-based observational studies involving chewing or swallowing-related impairments. More prospective studies in multidisciplinary domains across the cancer care continuum are needed. There is particular need for interventional studies and prospective observational studies. Future studies should evaluate clinically-relevant activity limitations and participation restrictions. Rehabilitation professionals have an important role in the design of future HNC rehabilitation research.


      List of abbreviations:

      HNC (head and neck cancer), ICF (International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health), QOL (quality of life), REDCap (Research Electronic Data Capture)
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