Surviving Cancer Can Take a Long-Term Toll

Poorer quality of life and health limitations are common, study finds

TUESDAY, Aug. 31, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- People who have survived cancer struggle with a lower quality of life, loss of productivity and more health limitations than those who never had the disease, researchers report.

These problems persist more than 10 years after the cancer is diagnosed, according to the report in the Sept. 1 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

"Cancer survivors had more lost productivity and lower quality of life than did individuals who had never been diagnosed with cancer," said lead author Robin Yabroff, an epidemiologist with the National Cancer Institute.

Yabroff noted this was true for all types of cancer, including survivors of breast, colon and prostate cancer. It was also the case regardless of how long ago the cancer had been diagnosed, she added.

Yabroff's group, which included researchers from the National Cancer Institute and the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, collected data on 1,823 cancer survivors and 5,469 patients who never had cancer. Both groups were matched for age, sex and level of education.

All the people in the study had participated in the 2000 National Health Interview Survey, which is an annual survey that asks questions about people's lives and health.

Yabroff said it isn't clear why cancer survivors do less well than those who have never had the disease. "It's really hard from this data to make inferences about why this is occurring," she said.

But Yabroff believes the study sheds new light on the consequences of surviving cancer that have gone unnoticed in the past. "When a lot of people talk about the burden of cancer care, they typically think about the medical costs of care. But it is important to look at other components of care when thinking about the burden of disease," she said.

Dr. Herman Kattlove, a medical oncologist and spokesman for the American Cancer Society, said the study's findings are "absolutely expected."

Kattlove believes the reason cancer survivors have a poorer quality of life and are less productive is simple -- surgery. "People with cancer invariably undergo surgery if they are to be cured. For most cancers, the only cure is surgery," he said.

Often, major cancer operations leave people with a host of other problems. For example, removing the prostate can lead to trouble urinating and decreased sexual function. The loss of a breast can result in depression. And colorectal surgery can result in the need for a colostomy, Kattlove said: "All of these will affect someone's quality of life. No question about it."

There are cancers, such as leukemia and lymphoma, that aren't treated surgically, and prostate cancer can be treated with radiation, Kattlove noted. However, the bulk of cancers require surgery, he said.

"There is a trade-off if you want to be cured of cancer," Kattlove said. "You have to undergo surgery, and sometimes that will lead to disabilities and poor quality of life in the future."

More information

The American Cancer Society's Cancer Survivors Network can tell you more about surviving cancer.

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