Multimodality treatments for patients with squamous cell head and neck carcinoma often produce significant mucositis and dysphagia, mandating enteral nutritional support. Patient preference has resulted in the increasing use of percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy (PEG) tubes rather than nasogastric (NG) tubes. Anecdotal observations of prolonged PEG dependence and of a need for pharyngoesophageal dilatation in PEG patients prompted a retrospective review of the use of both types of feeding tubes.
Patients who were treated on clinical trials of radiotherapy or chemoradiotherapy for squamous cell head and neck carcinoma between 1989 and 1997 were reviewed retrospectively. Data were gathered regarding demographics, primary tumor site, T and N classifications, and the need for feeding tube placement. In patients requiring feeding tubes, the type and duration of the feeding tube, the need for tracheostomy, the need for pharyngoesophageal dilatation, and the degree of mucositis and dysphagia at baseline and at 1 month, 3 months, 6 months, and 12 months after beginning treatment were recorded. Comparisons were then made between the NG and the PEG groups.
Ninety-one feeding tubes were placed in 158 patients over the 8-year interval. A hypopharyngeal primary site, female gender, a T4 primary tumor, and treatment with chemoradiotherapy were predictive of a need for feeding tube placement. NG tubes were placed in 29 patients, and PEG tubes were placed in 62 patients. PEG patients had more dysphagia at 3 months (59% vs. 30%, respectively; P = 0.015) and at 6 months (30% vs. 8%, respectively; P = 0.029) than NG patients. The median tube duration was 28 weeks for PEG patients compared with 8 weeks for NG patients, (P < 0.001). Twenty-three percent of PEG patients needed pharyngoesophageal dilatation compared with 4% of NG patients (P = 0.022). These end points could not be correlated with age, stage, primary tumor site, or tracheostomy placement.
Although patients treated for head and neck carcinoma find that the PEG tube is a more acceptable route for enteral nutrition than the NG tube, in the authors' experience, a PEG tube was required for longer periods of time and was associated with more persistent dysphagia and an increased need for pharyngoesophageal dilatation. A randomized prospective trial is needed to test these observations.