Adherence to an oral health regimen among head and neck cancer patients : the roles of doctor-patient communication, illness perceptions, and dispositional coping



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Treatment of head and neck cancer with radiation therapy is associated with adverse side effects to the oral cavity and surrounding areas. These complications include mucositis, mucosal fibrosis and atrophy, salivary gland dysfunction, increased risk of dental caries, increased susceptibility to infections, tissue necrosis, taste dysfunction, and muscular and/or cutaneous fibrosis. The often permanent nature of the radiation-induced damage necessitates the maintenance of a strict oral care program, involving frequent flossing and brushing in addition to daily fluoride applications, for the rest of the patient's life. An additional concern among patients with head and neck cancer is the use of tobacco and alcohol. Both are known risk factors in the development of head and neck cancers and failure to abstain from either after diagnosis increases the risk for relapse and development of secondary cancers. The present study was a longitudinal investigation of several factors that may influence patients' consistency in following their prescribed oral care program and abstaining from alcohol and tobacco use, including, but not limited to, patient satisfaction with the doctor-patient communication, patient coping, and patient illness perceptions. The study examined an integrative model seeking to explain patient adherence to the oral care regimen as well as tobacco and alcohol use. While results were inconclusive with respect to the model, there were several interesting findings, which were consistent with previous literature examining doctor-patient communication and illness perceptions among other cancer populations. Results from this study suggested that both satisfaction with doctor-patient communication and coping play an important role in forming patients’ illness perceptions. Furthermore beliefs about the severity of oral complications emerged as a predictor of oral care at follow-up.