- 2018;21;E419-E427Subclinical Peripheral Neuropathy in Patients with Head and Neck Cancer: A Quantitative Sensory Testing (QST) Study
Carlos J. Roldan, MD, FACEP, FAAEM, Carrie Johnson, MD, PhD, Sin-Ong Lee, MD, Andrew Peng, MS, Patrick M. Dougherty, PhD, and Billy Huh, MD, PhD.
BACKGROUND: Chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN) is a common and chronic complication associated with cancer treatment. Prior investigations have demonstrated the presence of subclinical peripheral neuropathy in patients with colorectal cancer even before the patients had received chemotherapy.
OBJECTIVE: To investigate subclinical peripheral neuropathy of the upper limbs in patients with squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) of the head and neck which developed before their exposure to neurotoxic anticancer agents.
STUDY DESIGN: Retrospective analysis.
METHODS: With the use of our quantitative sensory testing (QST) data bank, we retrospectively assessed the afferent fiber function of 25 patients with SCC of the head and neck before they had received chemotherapy (the patient group) and compared our findings with those from 23 healthy control patients. Skin temperature, sensorimotor function, sharpness detection, thermal detection, and touch detection (using both von Frey monofilaments and the Bumps detection test) were measured.
RESULTS: Touch thresholds were statistically higher in the patient group than in the healthy volunteer group at the palm (mean [± SD], 0.54 g [± 0.07 g] and 0.27 g [± 0.05 g], respectively [P < 0.01]) and at the forearm (0.74 g [± 0.12 g] and 0.41 g [± 0.08 g] [P < 0.05]). There was also a clear deficit in touch sensation as indicated by a Bumps detection threshold in patients of 6.5 µm ± 0.8 µm and in controls of 3.7 µm ± 0.5 µm. This yields an elevation in threshold to 165% in the patients relative to that of the control volunteers. The grooved pegboard test showed delayed completion times for patients compared with controls, with differences of 18.65 seconds in the dominant hand and of 23.36 seconds in the nondominant hand. The sharpness detection thresholds did not differ between patients and volunteers.
LIMITATIONS: Inadequacies in the original data acquisition and documentation of the QST and the medical records could not be addressed due to the retrospective nature of the study. In addition, based on available information, we did not find an objective parameter able to correlate the QST findings with pre-pain levels.
CONCLUSION: Patients with SCC were found to have deficits in sensory function before undergoing treatment, suggesting that cancer itself alters peripheral nerve function and may contribute to the development of CIPN. These results confirm the sensitivity of the Bumps detection test and highlight its potential role in early detection of peripheral neuropathy, especially in cancer patients for whom chemotherapies associated with CIPN have been prescribed.
KEY WORDS: Peripheral neuropathy, head and neck cancer, quantitative sensory testing