The aim of this study was to compare the shoulder domain in the University of Washington quality of life (UW-QoL) scale with two shoulder-specific questionnaires. Methods We did a cross-sectional survey of 100 consecutive outpatients who had had operations on the head and neck for cancer using the UW-QoL, the neck dissection impairment index, and the shoulder disability questionnaire. Results The types of neck dissection were none (n = 12), unilateral selective (n = 63), bilateral selective (n = 17), and radical or modified radical (n = 8). There were significant correlations among the three questionnaires. The worst scores were found in the group who had modified radical or radical neck dissection. Although responses were similar between those who had no neck dissection and those who had unilateral level 3 neck dissection, a few patients reported considerable dysfunction after selective neck dissection. Conclusion Although the UW-QoL shoulder domain is limited to one of four responses, our results support the conclusion that it is sufficiently sensitive to screen for dysfunction of the shoulder.