Almost 50% of patients with cancer who experience severe distress miss at least one radiation therapy appointment and are admitted to the hospital during their treatment, according to a new study presented at the American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO) annual meeting (September 24-27, 2017; San Diego, CA).
The National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) describes symptoms of severe distress as “a mix of anxiety and depressive symptoms.” The NCCN estimates that significant psychological distress affects approximately 33% of all patients diagnosed with cancer.
“While distress does not directly impact a patient’s disease, it impacts how she or he copes with treatment, such as the ability to follow a doctor’s recommendations and adhere to a treatment plan,” said Justin Anderson, medical student, Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine, in his presentation.
Findings from the study are based on 54 patients who received external beam radiation therapy with curative intent between 2015 and 2016. Researchers evaluated assessed patients’ level of distress with the NCCN Distress Thermometer. Scores were grouped into four categories: severe (scores of 7-10), moderate (4-6), low (1-3), and none (0).
Researchers reported that 15% of patients reported severe distress, 29% reported moderate stress, 29% reported low distress, and 25% reported no distress.
Further analysis revealed that patients with higher distress scores were significantly more likely to miss appointments during their course of radiation treatment. Fifty-seven percent of the patients with severe distress scores missed at least one appointment, compared with 18% of patients with moderate, low, or no distress (P < .01).
Additionally, patients with severe distress were more likely to be admitted to the hospital during treatment. Fifty percent of the patients with severe distress scores were admitted during treatment, compared with 11% of patients with moderate, low, or no distress (P < .01).
Researchers concluded that the distress-measuring resources can be used as prognostic tools for radiation oncologists to determine which patients will need additional support during treatment. “Our study demonstrates an association between distress and radiation therapy-specific outcomes, adding to the growing body of evidence emphasizing a need for an interdisciplinary approach to cancer care,” said Mr. Anderson in his presentation.—Zachary Bessette