Cancer - all types and at all stages, newly diagnosed, undergoing treatment, or a cancer survivor - manifest about twenty two physical symptoms, according to researchers.
Common symptoms include fatigue, pain, weakness, appetite loss, dry mouth, constipation, insomnia and nausea. These physical symptoms are associated with substantial functional impairment, disability and diminished quality of life.
"We found that regardless of where they are in the course of their diseases, many individuals with cancer have a high symptom burden," said Kurt Kroenke, the study's principal investigator and first author.
The study of 405 patients, all of whom had pain, depression or both, experienced substantial disability, reporting on average 17 of the past 28 days as either bed days or days in which they had to cut down on activities by at least 50 pc. Almost all patients reported feeling tired (97.5 pc) and most (78.8 pc) were bothered "a lot" by this symptom. Of the 22 symptoms studied, 15 were reported by more than half of the study participants.
In spite of high symptom prevalence, the researchers did not uncover greater use of the health care system. There may be several explanations for this including patients' inclinations to focus on cancer treatment while with their physicians or to accept the symptoms as an inevitable result of the disease or its treatment. Alternatively, the explanation may lie with the fact that those in the study, as cancer patients or former patients, were already frequently interacting with many parts of the health care system.
The study has been reported in the issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.