A cohort study on the evolution of psychosocial problems in older patients with breast or colorectal cancer: comparison with younger cancer patients and older primary care patients without cancer

L. Deckx*, D.L. van Abbema, M. van den Akker, C. van den Broeke, M. van Driel, P. Bulens, V.C.G. Tjan-Heijnen, C. Kenis, E.T. de Jonge, B. Houben, F. Buntinx

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Background: Although older cancer survivors commonly report psychosocial problems, the impact of both cancer and ageing on the occurrence of these problems remains largely unknown. The evolution of depression, cognitive functioning, and fatigue was evaluated in a group of older cancer patients in comparison with a group of younger cancer patients and older persons without cancer.

Methods: Older (>= 70 years) and younger cancer patients (50 - 69 years) with breast or colorectal cancer stage I - III, and older persons without cancer (>= 70 years) were included. Data were collected at baseline and one year follow-up and were available for 536 persons. Depression was evaluated with the 15-item Geriatric Depression Scale. Cognitive functioning was measured with the cognitive functioning subscale of the European Organization for Research and Treatment of Cancer. Fatigue was measured with a Visual Analogue Scale. Risk factors for depression, cognitive functioning, and fatigue were analysed using multivariate logistic regression analyses. Risk factors included cancer-and ageing-related factors such as functional status, cancer treatment, and comorbidities.

Results: The evolution of psychosocial problems was similar for the group of older (N = 125) and younger cancer patients (N = 196): an increase in depression (p <0.01), slight worsening in cognitive functioning (p = 0.01), and no clear change in fatigue. Also, compared to the group of people without cancer (N = 215), the differences were small and after one year of follow-up only depression was more frequent in older cancer patients compared to older persons without cancer (18 % versus 9 %, p = 0.04). In multivariate analyses the main risk factors for psychosocial problems after one year follow-up were changes in functional status and presence of baseline depression, fatigue, or cognitive impairment.

Conclusion: Over the course of one year after a diagnosis of cancer, cancer patients face increasing levels of depression and increasing difficulties in cognitive functioning. The main risk factor for psychosocial problems was presence of the problem at baseline. This calls for regular screening for psychosocial problems and exchange of information on psychosocial functioning between different health care providers and settings during the treatment and follow-up trajectory of cancer patients.

Original languageEnglish
Article number79
Number of pages13
JournalBMC Geriatrics
Publication statusPublished - 9 Jul 2015


  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Cognition
  • Oncology
  • Older cancer patients
  • Ageing
  • LIFE
  • AGE

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