Fear of cancer recurrence in colorectal cancer survivors

Support Care Cancer. 2016 Feb;24(2):555-562. doi: 10.1007/s00520-015-2808-4. Epub 2015 Jun 25.


Purpose: Although long-term colorectal cancer (CRC) survivors generally report a good quality of life, fear of cancer recurrence (FCR) remains an important issue. This study investigated whether the Cancer Worry Scale (CWS) can detect high FCR, the prevalence, and characteristics of FCR in CRC survivors.

Methods: Two hundred and eleven patients who had undergone successful CRC surgery in the period 2003-2010 in the Radboud University Medical Center in the Netherlands were asked to participate. All patients were sent an information letter plus questionnaires for collecting information on demographic and medical variables, FCR, distress, and quality of life.

Results: Seventy-six patients (36 %; median age of 67.7 years range 41-88 years) completed the questionnaires a median of 5.1 years after surgery. A cut-off score of 14 or higher on the CWS was optimal to detect high FCR. Twenty-nine patients (38 %) experienced high levels of FCR, characterized by higher levels of distress, post-traumatic stress symptoms, and lower quality of life. These individuals particularly reacted to disease-related triggers, felt helpless, were worried, and experienced limitations in daily functioning. High FCR was not associated with demographic or medical variables.

Conclusion: Long after successful CRC surgery, FCR is a serious problem that impairs the quality of life for a substantial proportion of patients. With the CWS, it is possible to detect high FCR and thereby assist survivors in receiving appropriate care.

Keywords: Colorectal cancer; Fear of cancer recurrence; Oncology; Quality of life.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Anxiety / psychology*
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / surgery
  • Fear / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local / psychology*
  • Netherlands
  • Phobic Disorders / psychology*
  • Quality of Life / psychology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Survivors / statistics & numerical data

Supplementary concepts

  • Phobia, Specific