A prospective study of the impact of nasopharyngeal cancer and radiotherapy on the psychosocial condition of Chinese patients




Radiotherapy (RT) promises optimistic results in the treatment of nasopharyngeal cancer (NPC). The objective of the current study was to map out prospectively the impact of NPC and RT on patients from diagnosis to 1 year posttreatment.


For this study, 67 Chinese patients (46 men and 21 women) with newly diagnosed stage I or II NPC who received primary RT were recruited. Physical and psychosocial adjustments were measured by using the Rotterdam Symptom Checklist, Beck Anxiety Inventory, Beck Depression Inventory, Perceived Stress Scale, and the 36-item Short-Form Health Survey (SF-36). Semistructured clinical interviews were conducted at bimonthly intervals from pre-RT to 1 year post-RT.


Physical and psychosocial adjustments were poorest from pre-RT to the end of RT. Rapid improvements in all areas were noted in the first 2 months post-RT and reached a plateau at around the 6th month. At 1 year, except for physical symptoms and perceived stress, patient measures recovered to their pre-RT levels. At 1 year, patients had more physical complaints (P < .001) but less perceived stress (P = .002). The percentage of patients who expressed fear of dying dropped from 28% pre-RT to 2% at 1 year. However, patients who expressed “fear of the worst happening” increased from 51% pre-RT to 57% at 1 year.


Different periods in treatment of NPC imposed different psychosocial demands on patients. The current results indicated that the period from diagnosis to 2-month post-RT was a high-risk period both physically and emotionally. After treatment, most patients showed resilience despite persistent side effects of RT and successfully resumed their pretreatment level of functioning by the end of the year. Despite resuming a normal or near-normal living, patients still noted a subdued fear of recurrence. Cancer 2007. © 2007 American Cancer Society.