Faculty Scholarly Dissemination Grants


The head and neck cancer treatment experience: opportunities for occupational therapy


Kirkhof College of Nursing


Kirkhof College of Nursing

Date Range



Medicine and Health Sciences


Diagnosis of head and neck squamous cell carcinoma presents a multifarious problem. Late stage diagnosis, uncertainty regarding appropriate clinical treatment, as well as the high potential for disfigurement and functional loss resulting in diminished quality of life, contributes to patient anxiety, stress, fear, and uncertainty throughout the cancer experience. Aims: The primary aim of this study sought to inform knowledge about patient treatment goals and priorities and to examine factors that influence treatment decisions, satisfaction, and outcomes. Methods: A qualitative design was used. Socio-emotional Selectivity Theory, and Leventhals Self-Regulation Model provided the theoretical foundation for exploring the ongoing emotional, psychological, and physical aspects of the cancer experience. Forty one participants (age 45-91) with a newly diagnosed squamous cell carcinoma of the head or neck, completed in depth semi structured interviews. Transcripts were coded for key themes using standard qualitative methods. Findings: Older patients with cancers of the head and neck may identify "doing nothing" as a preferred treatment option or may opt for less aggressive treatment. Additionally, experience with addiction treatment programs and perceptions of time seem to influence cancer treatment experience and goals. The following themes were identified: (1) the role of reconciliation, hope, self-inventory, reflection, and spirituality in navigating the cancer experience; (3) the role of healing vs. cure; and (4) patient's moving forward to a life with or after cancer. Conclusions: Findings suggest that occupational therapy can assist patients and their families in meeting evolving functional and psychological needs across the cancer treatment experience, regardless of prognosis and functional deficits. Results can be applied to improve patient quality of life, improve occupational therapy involvement, and enhance meaningful occupation at the end of life. This is one of two presentations that I am giving at this conference. The other is a short course, co-presented with Dr. Cynthia Grapzynski of the GVSU Occupational Therapy Program.

Conference Name

Sharing Traditions, Creating Futures: 16th International Congress of The World Federation of Occupational therapists

Conference Location

Yokohama, Japan

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