The treatment of cancer can have a significant impact on quality of life in older patients and this needs to be taken into account in decision making. However, quality of life can consist of many different components with varying importance between individuals. We set out to assess how older patients with cancer define quality of life and the components that are most significant to them. This was a single-centre, qualitative interview study. Patients aged 70 years or older with cancer were asked to answer open-ended questions: What makes life worthwhile? What does quality of life mean to you? What could affect your quality of life? Subsequently, they were asked to choose the five most important determinants of quality of life from a predefined list: cognition, contact with family or with community, independence, staying in your own home, helping others, having enough energy, emotional well-being, life satisfaction, religion and leisure activities. Afterwards, answers to the open-ended questions were independently categorized by two authors. The proportion of patients mentioning each category in the open-ended questions were compared to the predefined questions. Overall, 63 patients (median age 76 years) were included. When asked, "What makes life worthwhile?", patients identified social functioning (86%) most frequently. Moreover, to define quality of life, patients most frequently mentioned categories in the domains of physical functioning (70%) and physical health (48%). Maintaining cognition was mentioned in 17% of the open-ended questions and it was the most commonly chosen option from the list of determinants (72% of respondents). In conclusion, physical functioning, social functioning, physical health and cognition are important components in quality of life. When discussing treatment options, the impact of treatment on these aspects should be taken into consideration.
Keywords: cancer; geriatric oncology; older patients; quality of life.