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Head and neck cancer

Useful management information

  • Patients with new or suspected diagnosis of head and neck cancer should initially be referred to ENT surgeons for comprehensive assessment of upper aerodigestive tract regardless of presence or absence of metastatic disease
  • Patients with airway compromise, symptomatic hypercalcaemia or significant bleeding should be referred to an emergency department
  • For patients with incurable (metastatic or recurrent) cancer, consider the following:
    • documentation of discussions with the patient (and their carers where appropriate) regarding the intent of treatment (anti-cancer therapy to improve quality of life and/or longevity without expectation of cure or symptom palliation), the patient’s prognosis and their understanding of their prognosis
    • whether Advance Care Planning (ACP) conversations have been undertaken and their outcome
    • specific patient goals and values that may impact on treatment choices
    • whether the patient has been referred to a palliative or supportive care service
  • Barium swallow as needed
  • Optimal care pathway for people with head and neck cancer
  • Quick reference guide

Minimum referral criteria (Does your patient meet the minimum criteria?)

Does your patient meet the minimum referral criteria?

Category 1
(appointment within 30 calendar days)

If you feel your patient meets Category 1 criteria, please mark "urgent" on your referral

  • Appointment required within 14 days
    • Biopsy confirmed head and neck malignancy (oral and nasal cavity, larynx, pharynx, salivary glands) for combined chemo-radiotherapy or induction chemotherapy
    • Biopsy confirmed head and neck malignancy not amenable to surgery or radiotherapy and for palliative chemo-therapy
  • Resected head and neck malignancy with high risk features for adjuvant radiation or chemo-radiotherapy
Category 2
(appointment within 90 calendar days)
  • No category 2 criteria
Category 3
(appointment within 365 calendar days)
  • No category 3 criteria

If your patient does not meet the minimum referral criteria

  • Consider other treatment pathways or an alternative diagnosis
  • If the patient does not meet the criteria for referral but the referring practitioner believes the patient requires specialist review, a clinical override may be requested:
    • Please explain why (e.g. warning signs or symptoms, clinical modifiers, uncertain about diagnosis, etc.)
  • Please note that your referral may not be accepted or may be redirected to another service

Standard referral information (To be included in all referrals)

Reason for request

  • To establish a diagnosis
  • For treatment or intervention
  • For advice and management
  • For specialist to take over management
  • Reassurance for GP/second opinion
  • For a specified test/investigation the GP can't order, or the patient can't afford or access
  • Reassurance for the patient/family
  • For other reason (e.g. rapidly accelerating disease progression)
  • Clinical judgement indicates a referral for specialist review is necessary

Relevant clinical information about the condition

  • Presenting symptoms (evolution and duration)
  • Physical findings
  • Details of previous treatment (including systemic and topical medications prescribed) including the course and outcome of the treatment
  • All conservative options that have been pursued unsuccessfully prior to referral
  • Body mass index (BMI)
  • Details of any associated medical conditions which may affect the condition or its treatment (e.g. diabetes, BMI), noting these must be stable and controlled prior to referral
  • Any special care requirements where relevant (e.g tracheostomy in place, oxygen required)
  • Current medications and dosages
  • Drug allergies
  • Alcohol, tobacco and other drugs use
  • A comprehensive capture of information in relation to MSH Referral Criteria

Clinical modifiers

  • The presence of clinical modifiers may impact the categorisation of the patient.
  • Impact on employment
  • Impact on education
  • Impact on home
  • Impact on activities of daily living functioning – low/medium/high
  • Impact on ability to care for others
  • Impact on personal frailty or safety
  • Identifies as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander

Patient's Demographic Details

  • Full name (including aliases)
  • Date and country of birth
  • Residential and postal address including whether patient resides at an aged care facility
  • Telephone contact number/s – home, mobile and alternative
  • Medicare number (where eligible)
  • Name of the parent or caregiver (if appropriate)
  • Name of delegate and contact details (Department of Corrective Services)
  • Preferred language and interpreter requirements
  • Identifies as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander
  • Any special needs, access requirements and/or disability relevant to the referral

Referring Practitioner Details

  • Full name
  • Full address
  • Contact details – telephone, fax, email
  • Provider number
  • Date of referral
  • Signature
  • Nominated general practitioner’s details (if known), if the nominated general practitioner is different from the referring practitioner

Other relevant information

  • Willingness to have surgery (where surgery is a likely intervention)
  • Choice to be treated as a public or private patient
  • Compensable status (e.g. DVA, Work Cover, Motor Vehicle Insurance, etc.)

 

Essential referral information for Head and neck cancer referrals (Referral will be returned without this)

  • Past medical history, current medications, weight loss
  • Height & weight
  • Smoking and alcohol history
  • Previous cancer treatment details
  • Physical examination of the affected area, i.e. throat, neck
  • Pertinent social history/support
  • Biopsy results
  • Endoscopy results
  • Any relevant CT, PET scan +/- MRI results

If a specific test result is unable to be obtained due to access, financial, religious, cultural or consent reasons a Clinical Override may be requested. This reason must be clearly articulated in the body of the referral.

Additional referral information for Head and neck cancer referrals

  • History of significant hearing impairment can help guide treatment

Emergency

If any of the following are present or suspected, please refer the patient to the emergency department (via ambulance if necessary) or seek emergent medical advice if in a remote region.

Emergency treatment required - needs discussion with on call specialist and/or emergency department.

  • Symptoms of airway obstruction, SVC obstruction
  • Severe gastrointestinal (GI) bleeding
  • Bowel obstruction
  • Febrile neutropenia
  • Symptomatic hypercalcaemia
  • Other organ failure/dysfunction
  • Uncontrolled and disabling pain
  • Massive haemoptysis and/or stridor
  • Neurological signs suggestive of brain metastases or cord compression
  • Very high calcium (3.0mmol/L)
  • Severe dysphagia with dehydration
  • Biopsy proven small cell lung cancer
    • patients with symptoms of shortness of breath, deteriorating organ function
  • Metastatic germ cell tumour (GCT) confirmed (biopsy) or suspected (tumour markers)
  • Patients with severe symptoms, organ failure or life threatening complications
  • Highly aggressive lymphoma
    • Burkitt’s lymphoma
    • Lymphoblastic lymphoma
  • Acute leukaemia

Out of catchment

Metro South Health is responsible for providing public health services to the people who reside within its boundaries. Special consideration is made for patients requiring tertiary care or services that are not provided by their local Hospital and Health Service.  If your patient lives outside the Metro South Health area and you wish to refer them to one of our services, inclusion of information regarding their particular medical and social factors will assist with the triaging of your referral.

Last updated 7 April 2022