Healthy diet may extend survival for patients with head and neck cancer

August 31, 2022

2 min read

The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.

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Patients with head and neck cancer who consumed a diet high in nutrients found to deter chronic disease had a 93% lower likelihood of death due to any cause during the first 3 years after diagnosis, according to study results.

The findings, published in Frontiers in Nutrition, could be instrumental in the creation of future studies of dietary interventions and medical nutrition therapy guidelines for these patients, researchers noted.

HRs for mortality with the AHEI-2010 dietary index

Maino Vieytes CA, et al. Front Nutr. 2022;doi:10.3389/fnut.2022.791141.


Data are lacking on the role of a priori dietary patterns on prognosis after patients are diagnosed with head and neck squamous cell carcinoma, according to study background.

For this reason, Christian A. Maino Vieytes, a predoctoral fellow in nutritional sciences at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and colleagues sought to evaluate associations between adherence to six different a priori diet quality indices, including the Alternate Healthy Eating Index-2010 (AHEI-2010) that rates diet quality from 0 to 110 based on how frequently the individual consumes 11 categories of healthy and unhealthy foods. A higher score reflects healthier eating habits, such as consuming five or more servings of fruits and vegetables per day and avoiding trans fats and sugary beverages.

The other diets included the Alternate Mediterranean Diet Index (aMED), the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) and three low-carbohydrate diet composite scores that consisted of an overall low-carbohydrate index, an animal-based iteration and a plant-based iteration.

“The goal was to evaluate adherence to different patterns of eating and explore how diet was related to cancer-specific and all-cause mortality,” Maino Vieytes said in a press release.

The study included 468 patients (mean age, 61.1 years; 75.2% men; 95.1% non-Hispanic white) newly diagnosed with HNSCC and included in University of Michigan Head and Neck Specialized Program of Research Excellence. Researchers measured dietary intake with a food frequency questionnaire administered at three annual time points. They additionally evaluated the role of diet quality on mortality with the use of marginal structural Cox proportional hazards models.


Overall, researchers identified 93 deaths due to all causes, of which they found 74 to be cancer-associated.

The researchers observed an inverse association between adherence to the AHEI-2010 diet and all-cause mortality (HR = 0.07; 95% CI, 0.01-0.43) and cancer-specific mortality (HR = 0.15; 95% CI, 0.02-1.07) during the first 3 years of observation.

Researchers also reported an association of each 11-point increase in adherence to AHEI-2010 with a 60% decrease in risk for death, Maino Vieytes said in the press release.

Moreover, results showed a nonlinear relationship between adherence to plant-based versions of low-carbohydrate indices.

“In sum, higher adherence to the AHEI-2010 and a plant-based low-carbohydrate index throughout the first 3 years since diagnosis may bolster survival and prognosis in newly diagnosed patients with HNSCC,” Maino Vieytes and colleagues wrote.


Researchers reported the study’s strengths included methodology and thorough approach that generated robust findings. However, they noted the need for further research.

“Due to the study’s observational design, future evaluations in the form of randomized controlled trials are needed to substantiate these results,” they wrote.

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