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Exploring Olfactory Dysfunction as a Marker of Frailty and Postoperative Outcomes in Head and Neck Cancer.

Mady LJ, De Ravin E, Vohra V, Lu J, Newman JG, Hall DE, Dalton PH, Rowan NR. Exploring Olfactory Dysfunction as a Marker of Frailty and Postoperative Outcomes in Head and Neck Cancer. JAMA otolaryngology-- head & neck surgery. 2023 Sep 1; 149(9):828-836.

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IMPORTANCE: Olfactory dysfunction (OD) is increasingly recognized as a robust marker of frailty and mortality. Despite broad recognition of frailty as a critical component of head and neck cancer (HNC) care, there is no standardized frailty assessment. OBJECTIVE: To assess the prevalence of OD and its association with frailty and postoperative outcomes in HNC. DESIGN, SETTING, AND PARTICIPANTS: In this prospective cohort study with enrollment between February 17, 2021, to September 29, 2021, at a tertiary academic medical center, 85 eligible adult patients with primary, treatment-naive HNC of mucosal or cutaneous origin were included. Patients with a history of COVID-19, neurocognitive, or primary smell/taste disorders were excluded. EXPOSURES: Prospective olfactory assessments (self-reported, visual analog scale [VAS] and psychophysical, University of Pennsylvania Smell Identification Test [UPSIT]) with concurrent frailty assessment (Risk Analysis Index [RAI]) were used. Olfactory-specific quality of life (QOL) was examined with brief Questionnaire of Olfactory Disorders-Negative Statements (QOD-NS). MAIN OUTCOME(S) AND MEASURE(S): The primary outcome was the prevalence of OD as assessed by VAS (0-10, no to normal smell) and UPSIT (0-40, higher scores reflect better olfaction) and its association with frailty (RAI, 0-81, higher scores indicate greater frailty). For surgical patients, secondary outcomes were associations between OD and postoperative length of stay (LOS), 30-day postoperative outcomes, and QOD-NS (0-21, higher scores indicate worse QOL). RESULTS: Among 51 patients with HNC (mean [SD] age, 63 [10] years; 39 [77%] male participants; 41 [80%] White participants), 24 (47%) were frail, and 4 (8%) were very frail. Despite median (IQR) self-reported olfaction by VAS of 9 (8-10), 30 (59%) patients demonstrated measured OD with psychophysical testing. No meaningful association was found between self-reported and psychophysical testing (Hodges-Lehmann, < 0.001; 95% CI, -2 to 1); a total of 46 (90%) patients did not report decreased olfaction-specific QOL. Median UPSIT scores were lower in frail patients (Hodges-Lehmann, 6; 95% CI, 2-12). Multivariate modeling demonstrated severe microsmia/anosmia was associated with 1.75 (95% CI, 1.09-2.80) times odds of being frail/very frail and approximately 3 days increased LOS (ß, 2.96; 95% CI, 0.29-5.62). CONCLUSIONS AND RELEVANCE: Although patients with HNC are unaware of olfactory changes, OD is common and may serve as a bellwether of frailty. In this prospective cohort study, a dose-dependent association was demonstrated between increasing degrees of OD and frailty, and the potential utility of olfaction was highlighted as a touchstone in the assessment of HNC frailty.

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