MONDAY, Jan. 16 (HealthDay News) -- Persistent pain, eating problems and depression are the most common problems experienced by long-term survivors of head and neck cancer, a new study finds.

In the study, published in the Jan. 16 online issue of the journal Archives of Otolaryngology -- Head & Neck Surgery, researchers looked at 337 people who were diagnosed with head and neck cancer from 1995 to 2004 and survived at least five years.

More than 50 percent of the survivors had problems eating because of poor throat functioning, 28.5 percent had symptoms of depression and more than 17 percent had substantial pain, the researchers found.

However, when the long-term survivors were compared to age-matched people in the general population, their average general health was similar, Dr. Gerry Funk, of the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City, and colleagues explained in a journal news release.

The investigators also found that pain and diet in the first year after cancer treatment were the strongest independent predictors of five-year, health-related quality-of-life outcomes.

Problems with mouth and throat function in head and neck cancer survivors can be due to factors such as neuromuscular changes, anatomic deficits after surgery, pain and dental problems, the researchers noted.

"Early interventions addressing eating issues, swallowing problems and pain management will be a crucial component in improving this patient population's long-term quality of life, especially in those who are functioning poorly one year after diagnosis," the study authors concluded.

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more about head and neck cancer.