Treatment prioritization and risk stratification of head and neck cancer during COVID-19 pandemic: A systematic review

Marlinda Adham, Khoirul Anam, Lupita Adina Reksodiputro

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Introduction: Treatment of head and neck cancer patients amidst the COVID-19 pandemic is challenging, whereas prolonged treatment initiation in head and neck squamous cell carcinoma may increase mortality and likelihood of recurrence. Special attention is needed to ensure safe and appropriate care of these patients. This article aims to review and discuss existing research on treatment prioritization and risk stratification of head and neck cancer patients during the pandemic. Materials and Methods: The authors conducted literature search in three databases (PubMed, Cochrane, and Clinical Key) on July 15th, 2020. The keywords were (“Head and Neck Mucosal Malignancy” OR “Head and Neck Cancer”) AND (“Management” OR “Head and Neck Surgery”) AND (“COVID-19” OR “Pandemic”). The inclusion criteria were cancer in adult patients, published from 2020 in English, and with available access to full text. The exclusion criteria were comments, letters, and case reports. The articles were critically appraised using the Centre of Evidence-based Medicine (CEBM), University of Oxford and Duke University. The literature search strategy is illustrated using Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic review and meta-analysis (PRISMA) flow diagram. Results: A total of 150 articles were identified; 21 articles were gathered from Clinical Key, 33 from Cochrane, and 96 from Pubmed. After screening abstracts and reviewing the full text, the authors determined five articles met the inclusion criteria. There are several key points of head and neck cancer management in the COVID-19 pandemic. Head and neck cancer management is considered a high-risk procedure; the clinician should use proper personal protective equipment. Before operative treatment, all patients should undergo a PCR test 14 days before surgery. In diagnosing head and neck cancer, laryngoscopy should be considered carefully; and cytology should be preferred instead. Medically Necessary, Time-sensitive (MeNTS) score is recommended for risk stratification and surgery prioritization; it has three domains: procedure, disease, and patient. However, it is not specified to head and neck cancer; therefore, it should be combined with other references. Stanford University Head and Neck Surgery Division Department of Otolaryngology made surgery prioritization into three groups, urgent (should be operated immediately), can be postponed for 30 days, and can be postponed for 30-90 days. Some urgent cases and should be operated on immediately include cancers involving the airways, decreased renal function, and metastases. For chemoradiation decision to delay or continue should refer to the goal of treatment, current oncologic status, and tolerance to radiation. In terms of patient's follow up, telephone consultation should be maximized. Conclusion: MeNTS scoring combined with Guideline from Department of Otolaryngology at Stanford University prioritizing criteria can be helpful in decision making of stratifying Risk and prioritizing surgery in head and neck cancer management.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)53-59
Number of pages7
JournalMedical Journal of Malaysia
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2022


  • COVID-19
  • Head and neck cancer
  • Head and neck surgery
  • Surgical priority


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