Quality of life is high for colorectal-cancer survivors who achieve long-term remission

Colorectal-cancer patients who are in remission for two to three years following diagnosis tend to have a very high quality of life that is comparable to that of their peers without colon cancer, according to a study by Seattle researchers.

The study, published in the March 15 issue of CANCER, also found that among people whose treatment is successful, quality of life does not appear to be influenced substantially by stage at diagnosis.

Perhaps most notably, having a colostomy appliance does not appear to significantly lower quality of life for those who survive beyond two years, according to principal investigator Scott D. Ramsey, M.D., Ph.D., an assistant member of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center's Public Health Sciences Division and a University of Washington assistant professor of medicine and health services.

"We think this is because people just get used to having a colostomy and do fine," Ramsey says. "Having a colostomy appliance does not impair their ability to get around or do what they want to do."

Ramsey and colleagues surveyed 173 colorectal-cancer survivors identified through the Cancer Surveillance System, a registry of documented cancer cases for residents of western Washington. The surveillance system is part of the National Cancer Institute's Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) program. The average age of the study participants was 70, all of whom had colorectal cancer recorded as their first, or primary, malignancy.

Patients were selected to represent all stages of colorectal cancer and a wide range of times since diagnosis, from 13 months to more than five years.

Respondents filled out two self-administered quality-of-life questionnaires: one measures quality of life at it relates specifically to colorectal cancer, the other is a general measure used to survey quality of life for a variety of chronic health conditions.

More than three-quarters of the respondents (77 percent) rated their health as "good to excellent." By comparison, 83 percent of age-matched respondents to a national health and nutrition survey reported their health as good to excellent.

Although quality of life varied considerably in the first two years following diagnosis, average ratings increased substantially and showed little variation after the third year.

However, those with low incomes had somewhat lower scores than others responding to the survey. An important limitation of the survey, Ramsey says, is the possibility that those who responded may have been the healthiest of survivors who were initially contacted.

Editor's note: to arrange an interview with Dr. Scott Ramsey, please contact Kristen Woodward at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center,
(206) 667-5095. For more information about the journal CANCER, please contact Anna Radev, (212) 850-6484.

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The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center is an independent, nonprofit research institution dedicated to the development and advancement of biomedical technology to eliminate cancer and other potentially fatal diseases. Recognized internationally for its pioneering work in bone-marrow transplantation, the Center's four scientific divisions collaborate to form a unique environment for conducting basic and applied science. The Hutchinson Center is the only National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center in the Pacific Northwest. For more information, visit the Center's Web site at <www.fhcrc.org>.

CONTACT: Kristen Woodward
(206) 667-5095