Purpose: to evaluate the early and late radiotherapeutic morbidity after combined external and intracavitary radiotherapy to the uterine cervix.
Methods and materials: The morbidity in 442 consecutive cervical cancer patients FIGO Stage IIB (139), IIIA (10), IIIB (221) and IVA (72) treated from 1974 to 1984 were recorded retrospectively according to our own previously described system (18). This system is based on the assumption that radiotherapeutic morbidity progresses in severity with time wherefore successive morbidity scoring rather than recording the maximal damage alone is required to estimate the burden of complications for a group of patients. The early and late morbidity (within or beyond 3 months after the end of radiotherapy) was graded into mild, moderate, severe, and causing death depending on the symptoms and signs, and the requirement and type of therapy. The late morbidity was characterized by both the frequency and the actuarially corrected estimate. Also, the combined morbidity in two, three, four and five organs and the probability of surviving without tumor recurrence and/or significant late morbidity were evaluated.
Results: Early morbidity was most frequently seen in the rectosigmoideum (61%) and urinary bladder (27%). Medication for early morbidity was required in 68% and hospitalization in 10% of the patients. The frequencies of each late morbidity grade did not differ in relation to FIGO Stage while the actuarial estimates increased significantly with increasing stage. This reflects the poor prognosis in the more advanced stages, where few patients survived to develop late morbidity, and also points to the importance of latency in reporting late radiotherapeutic morbidity. In Stage IVA patients, the ratios between the actuarial estimate and the frequency of late severe rectosigmoid and urinary bladder morbidity were as high as 2.5 and 3, respectively. The highest 5-year risks (+/- 1 SE of the estimate) of late severe morbidity were found for the rectosigmoideum (28% +/- 3), small intestine (13% +/- 2) and urinary bladder (10% +/- 2). Rectosigmoid and urinary bladder complications constituted the most important part of the combined organ morbidity. Almost half of the patients developing late moderate rectosigmoid and one-third of those developing late moderate bladder complications, did so within one year after radiotherapy. Almost all complications were developed within 3 to 4 years after radiotherapy. The probability of surviving without recurrence and/or severe combined rectosigmoid and urinary bladder morbidity was low (23% +/- 2).
Conclusion: Actuarial estimates rather than frequencies should be reported to avoid underestimation of the risk of late radiotherapeutic morbidity in long-term survivors.