Background: The prevalence of survivors of oropharyngeal cancer (OPC) is increasing due to improved survival for individuals with human papillomavirus (HPV)-related disease. Although elderly survivors of OPC are known to have a high burden of comorbidities, to the authors’ knowledge it is unknown how this compares with a similar cohort without a history of cancer.
Methods: The current retrospective, cross-sectional study included individuals with a first incident primary diagnosis of OPC from 2004 through 2011 from the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER)-Medicare-linked databases and matched controls. The baseline prevalence and subsequent incidence of comorbid conditions were identified. The association between comorbidity and overall survival was evaluated.
Results: A total of 2497 eligible patients with OPC were matched to 4994 noncancer controls. Baseline comorbidity was higher in cases (Charlson Comorbidity Index >0 for 48.5% of cases vs 35.8% of controls). At 5 years, cases were more likely than controls to develop comorbidities. Survivors of OPC were at high risk (≥20% cumulative prevalence by 5 years) of developing several comorbidities, including cardiovascular diseases, cerebrovascular disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and tobacco abuse, and were at moderately high risk (10%-19% cumulative prevalence) of developing other conditions including carotid artery occlusive stroke, alcohol abuse, depression, and anxiety. In both cases and controls, the presence of the majority of comorbidities either at the time of diagnosis or during the follow-up period was associated with worse survival.
Conclusions: Patients with OPC have a higher comorbidity burden compared with matched controls, both at baseline and during survivorship, the majority of which are associated with decreased survival. Oncologic surveillance of survivors of OPC should include screening for highly prevalent conditions.