BACKGROUND: An increasing number of patients are surviving a diagnosis of rectal cancer. The majority of the patients are treated with the sphincter-sparing surgical procedure low anterior resection, and 50% to 90% of these patients experience bowel dysfunction, known as the low anterior resection syndrome. No previous studies have investigated the association between the low anterior resection syndrome and quality of life in an international setting with the use of a validated instrument for the classification of the low anterior resection syndrome.
OBJECTIVE: The aim of this study was to investigate the association between quality of life and the low anterior resection syndrome in European patients who have had rectal cancer.
DESIGN: The study was designed as an international cross-sectional study involving 5 centers in 4 European countries.
PATIENTS: All patients had undergone low anterior resection for rectal cancer, had no stoma, had no dissemination or recurrence at the time of the study, and were at least 16 months past surgery.
INTERVENTIONS: The patients received by mail the Low Anterior Resection Syndrome Score and the quality-of-life questionnaire EORTC QLQ-C30.
MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Eight subscales were selected to be the focus of this study: global quality of life; physical, role, emotional, and social functioning; fatigue; constipation; and diarrhea.
RESULTS: A total of 796 patients were included, which corresponds to a response rate of 75.0%. In comparison with patients without low anterior resection syndrome, patients with major low anterior resection syndrome fared substantially worse in all selected subscales (difference ≥ 10 points, p < 0.01), with the exception of constipation.
LIMITATIONS: The cross-sectional design prevents an evaluation of causality.
CONCLUSIONS: The quality of life of patients who have had rectal cancer is closely associated with the severity of the low anterior resection syndrome. Therefore, it is important that clinicians and researchers focus on this syndrome to improve the prevention and the treatment of bowel dysfunction and the information given to patients.