Background:

To investigate the standardized incidence ratios (SIR) of stroke in patients with head and neck cancer and their relationship to radiotherapy.

Methods:

Patients with head and neck cancer ages 20–85 years were enrolled from 2007 to 2016 using the Taiwan Cancer Registry. The study endpoint was fatal and non-fatal ischemic stroke, ascertained by the National Health Insurance Research Database. Age- and sex-adjusted SIRs, categorized by 10-year age standardization, were used to compare the patients with head and neck cancer with a randomly selected 2,000,000 general population. We compared the risk of stroke in patients with head and neck cancer who received radiotherapy or surgery alone. Multivariable adjusted hazard ratios (HR) and 95% confidence intervals (CI) were obtained from Cox regression analysis with competing risk.

Results:

Among 41,266 patients (mean age, 54.1 years; men, 90.6%) in the median follow-up period of 3.9 years, 1,407 strokes occurred. Compared with the general population, the overall SIR of stroke was 1.37 (95% CI, 1.30–1.44) in patients with head and neck cancer. In patients with head and neck cancer, the fully adjusted HR of stroke in those who received radiotherapy was 0.96 (95% CI, 0.83–1.10), compared with those who received surgery alone.

Conclusions:

Patients with head and neck cancer had a higher risk of fatal or non-fatal ischemic stroke. The risk of stroke was not higher in patients initially treated with radiotherapy.

Impact:

Oncologists should emphasize stroke prevention in all patients with head and neck cancer, not only in those who received radiotherapy.

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