The impact of postoperative complications on health-related quality of life in older patients with rectal cancer; a prospective cohort study

J Geriatr Oncol. 2018 Mar;9(2):102-109. doi: 10.1016/j.jgo.2017.09.005. Epub 2017 Oct 10.


Objectives: As result of the aging population and increasing rectal cancer incidence, more older patients undergo treatment for rectal cancer. This study compares treatment course, postoperative complications, and quality of life (QOL) between older and younger patients with rectal cancer and evaluates the impact of postoperative complications on QOL in the elderly.

Materials and methods: Patients with rectal cancer participating in a prospective colorectal cancer cohort and referred for radiotherapy between 2013 and 2016 were included. QOL was assessed with the cancer questionnaire of the European Organisation for Research and Treatment of Cancer (EORTC QLQ-C30) before treatment and at three, six, and twelve months. Outcomes were compared between older patients (≥70years) and younger patients (<70years) and stratified by presence of postoperative complications.

Results: In total, 115 (33%) older patients and 230 (67%) younger patients were included. Compared to younger patients, older patients underwent significantly more often short-course radiation with delayed surgery (6.1% and 19.1% respectively) and less often chemoradiation (62.6% and 39.1% respectively), and were more likely to undergo a Hartmann procedure with permanent stoma (3.5% and 13.0% respectively) instead of sphincter-sparing surgery (43.9% and 29.6% respectively). Postoperative complication rates were similar (38.5% in older patients versus 34.7% in younger patients). Older patients had worse physical functioning at six and twelve months after diagnosis compared to younger patients. Presence of postoperative complications had a significant stronger impact on physical- and role functioning in older patients.

Conclusion: Older patients undergo more often a tailored treatment approach for rectal cancer than younger patients. With this tailored approach, similar postoperative complication rates and QOL are achieved. However, postoperative complications have a larger negative impact on physical- and role functioning in older patients which indicates a need for better prediction of postoperative complications in the elderly.

Keywords: Elderly; Functioning; Neoadjuvant therapy; Postoperative complications; Quality of life; Rectal cancer; Surgery.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Observational Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Postoperative Complications / epidemiology*
  • Postoperative Complications / psychology
  • Prospective Studies
  • Quality of Life*
  • Rectal Neoplasms / psychology
  • Rectal Neoplasms / surgery*
  • Statistics, Nonparametric
  • Surveys and Questionnaires