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Association between preoperative patient-reported symptoms and postoperative outcomes in rectal cancer patients: a retrospective cohort study

Bubis LD, Coburn NG, Sutradhar R, Gupta V, Jeong Y, Davis LE, Mahar AL, Karanicolas PJ. J Surg Res. 2021; 259:86-96. Epub 2020 Dec 3. DOI:

Background — Rectal cancer patients undergoing preoperative radiotherapy experience a significant symptom burden. However, it is unknown whether symptoms during radiotherapy may portend adverse postoperative outcomes and healthcare utilization.

Methods — A retrospective cohort study was performed of rectal cancer patients undergoing neoadjuvant radiotherapy and proctectomy in Ontario from 2007 to 2014. The primary outcome was a complicated postoperative course-a dichotomous variable created as a composite of postoperative mortality, major morbidity, or hospital readmission. Patient-reported Edmonton Symptom Assessment System (ESAS) scores, collected routinely at outpatient provincial cancer center visits, were linked to administrative healthcare databases. The receiver-operating characteristic analysis was used to compare ESAS scoring approaches and to stratify patients into low versus high symptom score groups. Multivariable regression models were constructed to evaluate associations between preoperative symptom scores and postoperative outcomes.

Results — 1455 rectal cancer patients underwent sequential radiotherapy and proctectomy during the study period and recorded symptom assessments. Patients with high preoperative symptom scores were significantly more likely to experience a complicated postoperative course (OR 1.55, 95% CI 1.23-1.95). High preoperative ESAS scores were also associated with the secondary outcomes of emergency department visits (OR 1.34, 95% CI 1.08-1.66) and longer length of stay (IRR 1.23, 95% CI 1.04-1.45).

Conclusions — Rectal cancer patients reporting elevated symptom scores during neoadjuvant radiotherapy have increased odds of experiencing a complicated postoperative course. Preoperative patient-reported outcome screening may be a useful tool to identify at-risk patients and to efficiently direct perioperative supportive care.