Computer just as effective as clinical screening for head and neck cancer patients

New research has found computerised screening could improve the clinical management of head and neck cancer patients, providing an efficient and effective alternative to clinical screening for patients undergoing treatment.

The joint study tested the effectiveness of a ScreenIT application to assess swallowing, nutrition and distress in head and neck cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy.

Director of Radiation Oncology Research at the Princess Alexandra Hospital, Associate Professor Sandro Porceddu, said computerised screening was found to be consistently more sensitive to patient-reported concerns and distress than clinical judgement.

“These findings have proven that computerised screening is effective at monitoring cancer patients, and could revolutionise the way we manage treatment for head and neck cancers.

“ScreenIT has the potential to enable effective prioritisation and targeted intervention for swallowing, nutrition and distress for head and neck cancer patients in future,” Prof Porceddu said.

“The study found patients identified a greater number of symptoms and rated them as more severe when using ScreenIT compared to clinicians.

“Patients may feel more comfortable to divulge physical and emotional deficits in writing, rather than discussing them verbally.

“ScreenIT yielded all data in about five minutes – which is timely and efficient for follow-up clinical use.

“Our aim is to address the needs of our patients – physically, emotionally and practically – as quickly as possible, and to help manage any challenges during treatment.

“Being able to accurately assess the needs of head and neck cancer patients promptly is essential in providing the best possible quality of life to those diagnosed.”

The joint study was conducted by researchers and clinicians at the Princess Alexandra Hospital, the University of Queensland, Griffith University, and Cancer Council Queensland.

On average, a diagnosis of head and neck cancer for Queenslanders now reduces the chance of surviving at least five years by 38 per cent, compared to the general population.

Cancer Council Queensland spokesperson Katie Clift urged all Queenslanders to be aware of the symptoms of head and neck cancers.

“Possible symptoms of head and neck cancer include a sore throat, voice changes, or lumps in the neck area,” Ms Clift said.

“Symptoms depend on the site but can include pain, swelling, developing a hoarse voice, difficulty swallowing and bad breath.

“People who experience any of these symptoms should talk to their GP straight away.

“Those who smoke and consume more than the recommended intake of alcohol are at greatest risk, and can lower their risk by quitting smoking and reducing alcohol intake.

Head and neck cancers occur inside the sinuses, nose, mouth and throat, and salivary glands.

More than 760 head and neck cancers are diagnosed in Queensland each year, and around 240 people die from the disease.

More information about Cancer Council Queensland is available at or 13 11 20.


For more information or interviews, please contact:
Katie Clift,
Executive Manager,
Media and Spokesperson,
Cancer Council Queensland
Phone: (07) 3634 5372
Mobile: 0409 001 171