Open Access Research

Self-assessed bowel toxicity after external beam radiotherapy for prostate cancer - predictive factors on irritative symptoms, incontinence and rectal bleeding

Michael Pinkawa*, Marc D Piroth, Karin Fischedick, Sandra Nussen, Jens Klotz, Richard Holy and Michael J Eble

Author Affiliations

Department of Radiation Oncology, RWTH Aachen University, Pauwelsstrasse 30, 52072 Aachen, Germany

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Radiation Oncology 2009, 4:36  doi:10.1186/1748-717X-4-36

Published: 21 September 2009



The aim of the study was to evaluate self-assessed bowel toxicity after radiotherapy (RT) for prostate cancer. In contrast to rectal bleeding, information concerning irritative symptoms (rectal urgency, pain) and incontinence after RT has not been adequately documented and reported in the past.


Patients (n = 286) have been surveyed prospectively before (A), at the last day (70.2-72.0 Gy; B), a median time of two (C) and 16 months after RT (D) using a validated questionnaire (Expanded Prostate Cancer Index Composite). Bowel domain score changes were analyzed and patient-/dose-volume-related factors tested for a predictive value on three separate factors (subscales): irritative symptoms, incontinence and rectal bleeding.


Irritative symptoms were most strongly affected in the acute phase, but the scores of all subscales remained slightly lower at time D in comparison to baseline scores. Good correlations (correlation indices >0.4; p < 0.001 for all) were found between irritative and incontinence function/bother scores at times B-D, suggesting the presence of an urge incontinence for the majority of patients who reported uncontrolled leakage of stool. Planning target volume (PTV), haemorrhoids and stroke in past history were found to be independent predictive factors for rectal bleeding at time D. Chronic renal failure predisposed for lower irritative scores at time D. Paradoxically, patients with greater rectum volumes inside higher isodose levels presented with higher quality of life scores in the irritative and incontinence subscales.


PTV and specific comorbidities are important predictive factors on adverse bowel quality of life changes after RT for prostate cancer. However, greater rectum volumes inside high isodose levels have not been found to be associated with lower quality of life scores.