OHSU Knight Cancer Institute Assesses Quality of Life in Esophageal Cancer Patients Getting Radiation Therapy

08/21/09  Portland, OR

Data shows improvements in physical well-being, but results are mixed when it comes to spiritual and psychological health.

A three-year study of esophageal cancer patients who received radiation therapy at the Oregon Health & Science University Knight Cancer Institute reveals significant improvements to their quality of life when it comes to physical symptoms. However, the quality of patients’ spiritual and psychological health was mixed.

“It’s important to study the effect of treatment on our patients,” says Charles R. Thomas, Jr., M.D., professor of radiation medicine in the OHSU School of Medicine and chairman of radiation medicine at the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute. “Knowing how they feel as we fight cancer is an important element to our success.”

The study by Dr. Thomas and his colleagues was presented at the 2010 Gastrointestinal Cancers Symposium in Orlando, January 15th-17th.

From 2006 to 2008 esophageal cancer patients at the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute were asked to fill out questionnaires at the beginning and end of their radiation therapy, and after the first follow-up visit. A total of 25 patients completed the questionnaires, which consisted of numerical scores to indicate level of well-being or symptom burden. Scores were then analyzed for changes in quality of life. The change for each patient’s score was then calculated individually for each question as well as cumulatively for each section of the questionnaire. Significant change is defined as being >12.5%, corresponding to a 0.5 point change on the 4-point scale in the questionnaire. Please refer to the survey results table attached to this email in a separate PDF.

Patients reported a significant decline in many side-effects from start to end of radiation therapy, such as nausea. Patients also experienced physical improvements following radiation therapy (a gain in appetite and improved ability to swallow.) However, patients also reported a decline in their ability to communicate and enjoy life. While patients who answered the survey said they felt more strongly that life lacked meaning and purpose, they also felt a greater reason for living and a stronger attachment to spiritual beliefs at the end of their treatment.

According to Dr. Thomas, additional patient-provider communication studies are necessary to determine the underpinnings of why patients may paradoxically feel that life lacked meaning and/or purpose during treatment while also simultaneously sensing that they have obtained a greater reason for living.

Others involved in this study were Tasha McDonald M.D., chief resident at the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute department of radiation medicine, and Peter Jenson, B.S., OHSU Knight Cancer Institute research associate.

About the Knight Cancer Institute
With the latest treatments, technologies, hundreds of research studies and approximately 400 clinical trials, the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute is the only cancer center between Sacramento and Seattle designated by the National Cancer Institute — an honor earned only by the nation's top cancer centers. The honor is shared among the more than 650 doctors, nurses, scientists and staff who work together at the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute to reduce the impact of cancer.

About OHSU
Oregon Health & Science University is the state’s only health and research university, and Oregon’s only academic health center. OHSU is Portland's largest employer and the fourth largest in Oregon (excluding government). OHSU's size contributes to its ability to provide many services and community support activities not found anywhere else in the state. It serves patients from every corner of the state, and is a conduit for learning for more than 3,400 students and trainees. OHSU is the source of more than 200 community outreach programs that bring health and education services to every county in the state.