Low skeletal muscle mass predicts frailty in elderly head and neck cancer patients

C. D.A. Meerkerk, N. Chargi, P. A. de Jong, F. van den Bos, R. de Bree*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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PURPOSE: Treatment of head and neck cancer (HNC) carries a high risk of adverse outcomes in patients, especially in frail elderly. Therefore, it is important to identify patients in which treatment benefits outweigh the risk of any adverse outcome. Although the comprehensive geriatric assessment (CGA) identifies frailty, it is a time-consuming tool. Instead, measurement of skeletal muscle mass and strength (sarcopenia) may be a promising and time-efficient biomarker for frailty. The aim of this study was to examine the association between sarcopenia and frailty assessment tools, such as the CGA, Fried criteria and the Groningen Frailty Indicator (GFI).

METHODS: A retrospective study was performed in elderly patients (≥ 70-years) with HNC. Sarcopenia was defined as the combination of reduced handgrip strength (HGS) and low skeletal muscle mass (SMM), according to the EWGSOP-2 criteria. SMM was measured on routinely available diagnostic imaging and corrected height: skeletal muscle index (SMI). A CGA was performed by a geriatrician. Frailty screening was performed using the GFI and the Fried criteria.

RESULTS: In total, 73 patients were included of which 33 were men (45.2%) and 40 women (54.8%). Frail patients diagnosed by CGA were more likely to have low SMI, sarcopenia, more comorbidities and were at high risk for malnutrition (all p < 0.05). In multivariate regression analysis, the only significant predictor for frailty diagnosed by CGA was SMI (OR 0.9, p < 0.01) independent of comorbidity and muscle strength.

CONCLUSION: Low SMI and sarcopenia are associated with frailty in elderly HNC patients. Low SMI predicts frailty and is a promising time-efficient and routinely available tool for clinical practice.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)967-977
Number of pages11
JournalEuropean Archives of Oto-Rhino-Laryngology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2022


  • Comprehensive Geriatric Assessment
  • Handgrip strength
  • Muscle function
  • Sarcopenia
  • Skeletal muscle index
  • Geriatric Assessment
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Frailty/diagnosis
  • Female
  • Aged
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Muscle, Skeletal
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms/complications
  • Hand Strength


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