Purpose Quality of life is an important outcome measure that has to be considered when deciding treatment strategy for rectal cancer. The aim of this study was to find out the impact of surgery-related adverse effects on quality of life. Methods The RAND-36 questionnaire and questionnaires assessing urinary, sexual, and bowel dysfunction were administered to 94 patients with no sign of recurrence a minimum of one year after curative surgery. Results were compared with age-matched and gender-matched general population. Results Eighty-two (87 percent) patients answered the questionnaires. Major bowel dysfunction was as common after high anterior resection as after low anterior resection. Urinary complaints occurred as often after anterior resection as after abdominoperineal resection, but sexual dysfunction was more common after abdominoperineal resection. Overall, the patients reported better general health perception but poorer social functioning than population controls. In particular, elderly patients reported a significantly better quality of life in many dimensions than their population controls. There was no significant difference in quality of life between treatment groups. Major bowel dysfunction after anterior resection impaired social functioning compared with that of patients without such symptoms. Urinary dysfunction impaired social functioning and impotence impaired physical and social functioning. Conclusions Quality of life after rectal cancer surgery is not worse than that of the general population. The major adverse impact of bowel and urogenital dysfunction is on social functioning. These adverse effects need to be discussed with the patient and preoperative function needs to be taken into account when choosing between treatment options. Permanent colostomy is not always the factor that disrupts a person's quality of life most.
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