The effects of pelvic radiotherapy on cancer survivors: symptom profile, psychological morbidity and quality of life

E Adams, M G Boulton, A Horne, P W Rose, L Durrant, M Collingwood, R Oskrochi, S E Davidson, E K Watson
Clinical Oncology: a Journal of the Royal College of Radiologists 2014, 26 (1): 10-7

AIMS: As cancer survival rates continue to increase, it is important to maximise the quality of life of cancer survivors. Pelvic radiotherapy is a common cancer treatment. Bladder, bowel and sexual dysfunction are recognised side-effects of treatment, and yet relatively little is known of the extent to which they remain problems in the longer term when patients are often managed by primary care, nor of the psychological impact of symptoms and effects on quality of life. Therefore, the aims of this study were to estimate the prevalence of bladder, bowel and sexual dysfunction late effects in a sample of cancer survivors; assess the impact of time since treatment on symptom prevalence; and explore the relationship between symptoms, psychological morbidity and quality of life.

MATERIALS AND METHODS: A questionnaire was given to a sample of cancer survivors treated in Oxford who had pelvic radiotherapy 1-11 years previously. The questionnaire measured patient-reported toxicity (Common Toxicity Criteria of Adverse Events/Late Effects of Normal Tissues--Subjective, Objective, Management and Analytic Measure), psychological morbidity (Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale) and quality of life (European Organization for Research and Treatment of Cancer Quality of Life Questionnaire C30).

RESULTS: In total, 418 (57.1%) completed questionnaires were received. Moderate/severe problems with bowel, urinary and sexual functioning were relatively common: bowel urgency (59% women, 45% men); urine urgency (49% women, 46% men); ability to have a sexual relationship affected (24% women, 53% men). Symptoms were just as frequent in those 6-11 years after treatment as in those 1-5 years after treatment. Symptom severity was significantly associated with poorer overall quality of life and higher levels of depression.

CONCLUSIONS: Late effects are common among long-term cancer survivors who have had pelvic radiotherapy, and are associated with reduced quality of life and psychological morbidity. It is imperative due attention is paid to this issue during the follow-up phase--both in secondary and primary care. Health care professionals providing follow-up care need to be aware of the importance of assessing and monitoring symptoms, and need to be adequately informed on the most appropriate management strategies.

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