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Ann Oncol. 1999 Jul;10(7):775-82.

Quality of life as subjective experience: reframing of perception in patients with colon cancer undergoing radical resection with or without adjuvant chemotherapy. Swiss Group for Clinical Cancer Research (SAKK)

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  • 1SIAK Coordinating Center, Bern, Switzerland.



We examined whether patients with colon cancer undergoing surgery with or without adjuvant chemotherapy change the internal standards on which they base their quality-of-life (QL) estimation, and, if they do so, whether this reframing alters interpretation of QL findings. These questions were addressed within a randomized clinical trial of the Swiss Group for Clinical Cancer Research (SAKK 40/93).


After radical resection of adenocarcinoma of the colon (pT1-4pN > 0M0 and pT3-4pN0M0) and perioperative chemotherapy, patients were randomized to three treatment arms: observation only (A), 5-FU 450 mg/m2 plus Levamisol (B), or 5-FU 600 mg/m2 (C). QL was measured by linear analogue self-assessment indicators. Patients estimated their pre-surgery QL both before surgery and retrospectively thereafter, and their pre-adjuvant QL both at the beginning of randomly assigned chemotherapy or observation and retrospectively about two months later. Thereafter, current QL was assessed. Paired t-tests were used to test the hypotheses of no change.


Overall, 187 patients with at least one pair of corresponding questionnaires were analyzed. Patients estimated their pre-surgery QL after surgery significantly lower than before and their pre-adjuvant QL under treatment or observation also lower than at the beginning. In the adjuvant phase, in contradiction to our hypothesis, chemotherapy had almost no impact on these changes attributed to reframing. Conventionally assessed changes indicated an improvement in QL. Patients with treatment C reported less improvement in functional performance than those with B or those under observation (P = 0.04). Patients with treatment B indicated a greater worsening in nausea/vomiting than those with C, whereas patients with observation only showed an improvement (P = 0.0009). After adjustment of current QL scores under treatment or observation to patients' retrospective estimation, the treatment effects were diluted but the overall improvement was substantially amplified in most QL indicators.


Patients with colon cancer substantially reframe their perception in estimating QL both under radical resection and under adjuvant chemotherapy or observation. This effect is an integral part of patients' adaptation to disease and treatment. An understanding of this phenomenon is of particular relevance for patient care. Its role in evaluating QL endpoints in clinical trials needs further investigation.

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