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One-third of patients fail to return to work 1 year after surgery for colorectal cancer

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Achieving full recovery after colorectal cancer surgery means a return to normal physical and psychological health and to a normal social life. Recovery data focusses on time to discharge rather than longer term functionality including return to work (RTW). We aim to assess return to normal holistic function at 1 year after colorectal cancer surgery.


Questionnaires were created and dispatched to 204 patients who had undergone surgery with curative intent for colorectal cancer, in 2011–2012, in a single teaching hospital.


Response rate was 75 % (153/204), 82 % (129/157) for open surgery (OS) and 51 % (24/47) for laparoscopic surgery (LS). Median age was 68 (48–91) years for OS and 65 (36–84) for LS. Eighty-four per cent of patients felt ‘ready’ and 95 % had adequate pain control upon discharge (no difference between groups). LS reported earlier ‘return to full fitness’ (1–3 months) than OS (>6 months; Mann–Whitney U, p < 0.05). Recovery from LS was ‘better than expected’ compared to OS ‘worse than expected’ (Mann–Whitney U test, p < 0.05). Forty-nine patients were employed preoperatively and 61 % (n = 30) returned to work. RTW was more frequent after LS (Chi-square test, p < 0.05). Length of time to RTW was significantly less after LS [44 (6–84) days] than OS [71 (14–252) days] (t test, p < 0.05). Levels of self-employment were equal between groups.


One-third of patients failed to RTW at 1 year post-surgery. Patients having LS returned to full fitness faster, felt recovery was shorter and returned to work earlier than OS. We must invest more in managing expectations and provide better post-discharge support to improve RTW.

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The authors would like to thank the research and Governance department, Royal Derby Hospitals NHS Trust for their support.

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Correspondence to A. Bhalla.

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Bhalla, A., Williams, J.P., Hurst, N.G. et al. One-third of patients fail to return to work 1 year after surgery for colorectal cancer. Tech Coloproctol 18, 1153–1159 (2014).

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