Significant weight loss and resultant malnutrition in patients undergoing radiotherapy for head and neck carcinomas are recognized and preventable clinical concerns. Morbidity related to weight loss during treatment may include dehydration, hospitalization, compromised treatment efficacy, and reduced quality of life and may impact survival. Malnutrition effects on wound healing may prolong recovery following treatment and increase the risk of morbidity for those undergoing subsequent salvage surgery. Multiple interventions have been implemented to help ameliorate the impact of treatment on weight loss and nutritional status, including the use of percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy (PEG) tubes. The value of prophylactic PEG tube placement at treatment initiation increasingly is being recognized, and evidence suggests that patients experience better outcomes. Criteria for patient selection have not been defined completely, and a great deal of variation in clinical practice exists, contributing to underuse of this supportive intervention. According to a literature review, patients who require therapeutic PEG tube placement in response to significant weight loss during treatment suffer greater morbidity than patients who receive PEG tubes prophylactically. Understanding patient-, tumor-, and treatment-related risk factors to systematically identify patients most likely to benefit from prophylactic PEG tube placement is an important aspect of nursing care.
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