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Transitioning the eating experience in survivors of head and neck cancer

August 21, 2021

Supportive Care in Cancer

Authors: Jennifer Dalton, Joel Epstein, et al.


Applying the Social Cognitive Transition (SCT) Model of Adjustment as an interpretive framework, this mixed methods case series explored how head and neck cancer (HNC) survivors participate in the dimensions of the eating experience (described as physiological, psychological, social, cultural).

This was a sub-study of a primary study, “The Natural History and Impact of Taste Change in Oncology Care.” Qualitative interviews and quantitative data (questionnaires and exams) were intersected to examine and describe the complexities of transitioning the eating experience after treatment for HNC. Triangulation of qualitative and quantitative data within and across cases was examined to produce rich descriptions of the changes and transitions in the eating experience.

Four case studies were detailed. All reported some taste and/or smell changes. Each case described worry about weight loss and the decreased ability to engage and finding meaning in the eating experience. Each expressed coping strategies that drew upon the social and cultural dimensions of their prior eating experience that brought meaning and purpose to the post-treatment eating experience.

This case series explored the impact of taste and oral function and the participant’s pre- and post-treatment mental model of the eating experience. Application of the SCT Model of Adjustment to the eating experience in adults with HNC provided a deeper insight into how cognitive adaptation and coping strategies supported transition in identity related to the eating experience following cancer therapy.