ESMO 2017 Press Release: Patients Feel Psycho-social Impact of Chemo More Acutely Than Physical Side Effects

  • Date: 09 Sep 2017

LUGANO-MADRID – The preliminary results of a study to be presented at the ESMO 2017 Congress in Madrid (1) show that socio-psychological factors have become more significant for patients today than physical side effects such as nausea and vomiting, which were among the top concerns in similar studies carried out previously.The side effects of chemotherapy seriously impact cancer patients’ daily lives, and managing them is a longtime concern for doctors. 

The side effects of chemotherapy seriously impact cancer patients’ daily lives, and managing them is a longtime concern for doctors. Patient assessments on the subject have been carried out regularly since 1983. The new study presented at ESMO 2017 showed that perceptions of chemotherapy side effects in breast and ovarian cancer patients change not only over time, but also throughout the course of treatment.

“With the most recent analysis dating back to 2002, we felt it was time to collect new data and update the interview format,” said study author Dr. Beyhan Ataseven from Kliniken Essen Mitte Evang, Huyssens-Stiftung in Essen, Germany. “Living conditions have changed, and so have the accompanying therapies linked to chemotherapy. As doctors, we want to know what our patients care about.”

Contrary to previous studies, the team led by Ataseven focused exclusively on breast and ovarian cancer patients and added a longitudinal analysis by carrying out three separate interviews before, during and at the end of their chemotherapy.

At each interview, 141 patients scheduled for or undergoing chemotherapy were presented with two groups of cards respectively featuring physical and non-physical side effects. The patients selected their five most burdensome symptoms in each group and ranked them by importance. Out of these 10 main side effects, they were then asked to select the five most significant ones from both groups and to rank these as well.

“What we found is that, on the one hand, side effects like nausea and vomiting are no longer a major problem for patients – this can be explained by the fact that modern medication against these symptoms is very effective. On the other hand, hair loss is still a persistent, unsolved issue that particularly affects patients at the start of their treatment,” said Ataseven. “As time passes and patients get used to this, however, their concerns evolve and other side effects become more significant.”

“Looking at patients’ perceptions over the entire course of their chemotherapy, the most difficult side effects they deal with are sleep disorders – which become increasingly important over time – and anxiety about the effects of their illness on their partner or family, which remains a top issue throughout,” Ataseven explained.

“As doctors, these findings might lead us to consider possible improvements to the accompanying therapies we offer our patients: For instance, sleeping tablets were not until now a part of the routine regimen. There is also a clear case for providing stronger psychological support to address patients’ social anxieties and family-related concerns,” she said.

ESMO will soon publish a position paper on the need to integrate supportive and palliative care for patients, from diagnosis and throughout the course of the disease. Dr. Karin Jordan, Chair of the ESMO Faculty Group on Palliative and Supportive Care and senior leading physician at the University of Heidelberg’s Department of Medicine, commented on the study: “The results show that there might be a gap between what doctors think is important or disturbing for patients, and what patients really think. Physical, psychological, social and spiritual support is needed at every stage of the disease,” she said. “Going forward, similar studies also need to be done for other types of cancer – including analyses of how an optimal management of side effects influences the disease trajectory.”


Notes to Editors

Please make sure to use the official name of the meeting in your reports: ESMO 2017 Congress


  1. Abstract 1472P_PR ‘Change of patient perceptions of chemotherapy side effects in breast and ovarian cancer patients’ will be presented by Dr Beyhan Ataseven during Poster Display Session on Sunday, 10 September 2017, 13:15 to 14:15 (CEST), in Hall 8.


This press release contains information provided by the authors of the highlighted abstracts and reflects the content of those abstracts. It does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of ESMO who cannot be held responsible for the accuracy of the data. Commentators quoted in the press release are required to comply with the ESMO Declaration of Interests policy and the ESMO Code of Conduct.

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Abstract 1472P_PR

Change of patient perceptions of chemotherapy side effects in breast and ovarian cancer patients

B. Ataseven1, J. Frindte1, P. Harter1, G. Göke1, J. Holtschmidt2, C. Vogt1, A. Traut1, B. Vincenzo2, M. Vincent2, H. Florian1, S. Kuemmel2, S. Prader1, M. Sporkmann1, S. Schneider1, A. du Bois1
1Gynecology And Gynecologic Oncology, Kliniken Essen Mitte Evang. Huyssens-Stiftung, Essen/GERMANY, 2Breast Unit, Kliniken Essen Mitte Evang. Huyssens-Stiftung, Essen/GERMANY

Background: Previous studies demonstrated changes of patient perceptions (PP) and individual ranking of chemotherapy side effects (CSE) between 1983-2002. We updated this survey and evaluated changes in PP in comparison to previous studies and as longitudinal observation.

Methods: Patients with breast (BC) and ovarian cancer (OC) planned for chemotherapy were recruited in this prospective study. At three different visits (before (T1), week 12+/-3 (T2), and at the end of chemotherapy (T3)) patients were asked to identify out of 72 cards, displaying potential physical and non-physical CSE, the ten most burdensome and rank them finally to top five by severity.

Results: In total, 141 patients (95 BC and 45 OC) were recruited. All three interviews were completed in 113 patients. The most severe CSE reported was “difficulty sleeping” compared to “vomiting” in 1983, “nausea” in 1993, and “affects my family/partner” in 2002 (table 1). “Loss of hair” remained a top concern over all studies. Over the complete observation period “affects my family/partner” and “difficulty sleeping” were among the top five severe side effects. “Feeling of not coping” and “nausea” were ranked only at T1, but not at T2/T3. “Loss of hair” was ranked at T1/T2, but no longer at T3. In contrast, “numbness in limbs” became relevant in T2/T3 (table 2)

Table 1

Table 1 Ranking of side effects 1983 (Coates et al.) 1993 (Griffin et al.) 2002 (Carelle et al.) 2016 Current study
1 Vomiting Nausea Affects my family or partner Difficulty sleeping
2 Nausea Constantly tired Loss of hair Affects my family or partner
3 Loss of hair Loss of hair Constantly tired Loss of hair
4 Thought of coming treatment Thought of coming for treatment Affects my work, home duties Numbness in limbs
5 Length of time treatment takes at clinic Vomiting Affects my social activities Shortness of breath

Table 2

Table 2 Ranking T1 (before initiation of chemotherapy) T2 (after 12+/-3 w weeks of chemotherapy start) T3 (end of chemotherapy +/- 2 weeks)
1 Affects my family or partner Difficulty sleeping Difficulty sleeping
2 Feeling of not coping with treatment Affects my family or partner Affects my family or partner
3 Loss of hair Numbness in limbs Numbness in limbs
4 Nausea Loss of hair Affects my work, home duties
5 Difficulty sleeping Shortness of breath Pins and needles in limbs (fingers, toes)

Conclusions: Patient perceptions of CSE have changed markedly compared with previous studies. However, “loss of hair” has remained an unsolved problem over decades. Furthermore, we demonstrated that PP of CSE changes over the treatment period. However, social concerns like “affecting family/partner” remain long-lasting problems.

Keyword: Patient perception, chemotherapy side effects

Disclosure: All authors have declared no conflicts of interest.