BACKGROUND: Receiving a cancer diagnosis can be a major life event which causes distress even years after primary treatment.
AIM: To examine the prevalence of distress in older patients with cancer (OPCs) up until 5 years post-diagnosis, and identify predictors present at time of diagnosis. Results are compared with reference groups of middle-aged patients with cancer (MPCs) and older patients without a cancer diagnosis (OPs).
DESIGN & SETTING: OPCs, MPCs, and OPs participated in a longitudinal cohort study in Belgium and the Netherlands by filling in questionnaires at designated time points from 2010-2019.
METHOD: Data from 541 patients were analysed using multivariable logistic regression analyses.
RESULTS: At baseline, 40% of OPCs, 37% of MPCs, and 17% of OPs reported distress. After 5 years, 35% of OPCs, 23% of MPCs, and 25% of OPs reported distress. No significant predictors for long-term distress in OPCs and OPs were found. For MPCs, it was found that baseline distress (odds ratio [OR] 2.94; 95% confidence intervals [CI] = 1.40 to 6.19) and baseline fatigue (OR 4.71; 95% CI = 1.81 to 12.31) predicted long-term distress.
CONCLUSION: Distress is an important problem for people with cancer, with peaks at different moments after diagnosis. Feelings of distress are present shortly after diagnosis but they decrease quickly for the majority of patients. In the long term, however, OPCs in particular appear to be most at risk for distress. This warrants extra attention from primary healthcare professionals, such as GPs who are often patients' first medical contact point. More research into risk factors occurring later in an illness trajectory might shed more light on predictors for development of long-term distress.