Artificial tube feeding methods for use with patients with head and neck cancer who are receiving treatment with radiotherapy, chemotherapy or both

Patients with cancer of the head and neck are at risk of malnutrition during radiotherapy treatment due to the side effects of this treatment and they may need tube feeding to meet their nutritional needs.

Tube feeding can either be delivered via a nasogastric feeding tube, which is a fine tube inserted through the nose into the stomach, or a gastrostomy tube which is inserted through the skin of the abdomen directly into the stomach. Both of these methods allow the delivery of nutrients directly into the stomach.

Tube feeding is essential to meet the nutritional needs of head and neck cancer patients as malnutrition can lead to a poorer prognosis for this patient group. There is debate over which method of tube feeding provides the most benefit to the patient for outcomes such as nutritional benefit and quality of life, as well as avoiding delays in radiotherapy treatment.

Following our analysis of the available literature, only one clinical trial was eligible to be included in this review. The authors of this review found no evidence to support the use of any one method of tube feeding over another.

Authors' conclusions: 

There is not sufficient evidence to determine the optimal method of enteral feeding for patients with head and neck cancer receiving radiotherapy and/or chemoradiotherapy. Further trials of the two methods of enteral feeding, incorporating larger sample sizes, are required.

Read the full abstract...

This is an update of a Cochrane review first published in The Cochrane Library in Issue 3, 2010.

For many patients with head and neck cancer, oral nutrition will not provide adequate nourishment during treatment with radiotherapy or chemoradiotherapy due to the acute toxicity of treatment, obstruction caused by the tumour, or both. The optimal method of enteral feeding for this patient group has yet to be established.


To compare the effectiveness of different enteral feeding methods used in the nutritional management of patients with head and neck cancer receiving radiotherapy or chemoradiotherapy using the clinical outcomes, nutritional status, quality of life and rates of complications.  

Search strategy: 

Our extensive search included the Cochrane ENT Group Trials Register, CENTRAL, PubMed, EMBASE, CINAHL, AMED and ISI Web of Science. The date of the most recent search was 13 February 2012.

Selection criteria: 

Randomised controlled trials comparing one method of enteral feeding with another, e.g. nasogastric (NG) or percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy (PEG) feeding, for adult patients with a diagnosis of head and neck cancer receiving radiotherapy and/or chemoradiotherapy.

Data collection and analysis: 

Two authors independently assessed trial quality and extracted data using standardised forms. We contacted study authors for additional information.

Main results: 

One randomised controlled trial met the criteria for inclusion in this review. No further studies were identified when we updated the searches in 2012.

Patients diagnosed with head and neck cancer, being treated with chemoradiotherapy, were randomised to PEG or NG feeding. In total only 33 patients were eligible for analysis as the trial was terminated early due to poor accrual. A high degree of bias was identified in the study.

Weight loss was greater for the NG group at six weeks post-treatment than for the PEG group (P = 0.001). At six months post-treatment, however, there was no significant difference in weight loss between the two groups. Anthropometric measurements recorded six weeks post-treatment demonstrated lower triceps skin fold thickness for the NG group compared to the PEG group (P = 0.03). No statistically significant difference was found between the two different enteral feeding techniques in relation to complication rates or patient satisfaction. The duration of PEG feeding was significantly longer than for the NG group (P = 0.0006). In addition, the study calculated the cost of PEG feeding to be 10 times greater than that of NG, though this was not found to be significant. There was no difference in the treatment received by the two groups. However, four PEG fed patients and two NG fed patients required unscheduled treatment breaks of a median of two and six days respectively.

We identified no studies of enteral feeding involving any form of radiologically inserted gastrostomy (RIG) feeding or comparing prophylactic PEG versus PEG for inclusion in the review.