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Are Colorectal Cancer Survivors Less Content than Breast Cancer Survivors? If So, Why?

By Curt Pesmen on Nov. 2, 2012

 Fight Colorectal Cancer warmly welcomes Curt Pesmen, founding editor of LIVESTRONG Quarterly magazine and author of The Colon Cancer Survivors’ Guide (Tatra Press), who also has written for Esquire, SELF and The New York Times. A long-time admirer of Kate Murphy, he has generously offered to help fill her shoes by sending in Research & Treatment News blogs.

At first, it may not make total sense to hear news—released Oct. 30 in an American Association of Cancer Research (AACR) journal—that colorectal cancer survivors tend to have less-positive outlooks and poorer quality of life reports than do breast cancer, melanoma, or other cancer survivors.

 But those are the findings fanning out among oncologists, researchers, and patients, in the wake of the recent report (funded by the National Cancer Institute) that studied more than 1,800 cancer survivors and more than 24,000 people who had never received a cancer diagnosis. The extensive study also found that:

•          Melanoma, breast and prostate cancer survivors reported quality of life similar to adults without cancer.

•          Cervical, blood, colorectal, and short-survival cancer survivors reported worse health compared to adults without cancer.

•          The researchers estimated 3.3 million American cancer survivors have “poor” physical health and that 1.4 million survivors have below-average mental health-related quality of life.

(You can find highlights of the study here.)

 The study author reflected on the study’s findings, particularly concerning colorectal cancer survivors.

“It is very concerning that there are a substantial number of cancer survivors who experience poor mental or physical health years after cancer,” said Kathryn E. Weaver, Ph.D., M.P.H., assistant professor at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C.

“I  [hope] our data will draw attention to the… importance of monitoring these individuals, even long after their cancer diagnosis.”

In a brief interview for this blog, Dr. Weaver discussed concerns of colorectal cancer survivors who may wonder why their cohort fellow ranked lower on quality of life measures than other survivors. “I think we know less about the long-term trajectory of physical and mental well-being after colorectal cancer,” she said. “But what stands out for me are the long-term difficulties with bowel and bladder functioning that many survivors with colorectal cancer may face as a consequence of treatment. The survey didn’t specifically ask about these symptoms, but I would expect them to impact physical well-being.”

Patient resource: If you need help finding resources in dealing with quality-of-life issues, call our Answer Line at 1-877-427-2111.

Sources: Press release, AACR News ; Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev; 21(11); 1–10 (abstract published online Oct. 30); and personal interview with Kathryn E. Weaver, Ph.D., M.P.H. Assistant Professor,  Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.

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