The prevalence of psychological distress by cancer site

Psychooncology. 2001 Jan-Feb;10(1):19-28. doi: 10.1002/1099-1611(200101/02)10:1<19::aid-pon501>;2-6.


Purpose: The goal of this project was to determine the prevalence of psychological distress among a large sample of cancer patients (n=4496). In addition, variations in distress among 14 cancer diagnoses were examined.

Patients and methods: The sample was extracted from a database that consists of 9000 patients who completed the Brief Symptom Inventory as a component of comprehensive cancer care. Relevant data points for each case included age, diagnosis, gender, insurance status, marital status, race and zip code. Simple frequencies, percentages, measures of central tendency and variability were calculated. In addition, a univariate and multiple regression analysis was used to examine the relationships of these relevant variables to psychological distress.

Results: The overall prevalence rate of distress for this sample was 35.1%. The rate varied form 43.4% for lung cancer to 29.6% for gynecological cancers. While some rates were significantly different, diagnoses with a poorer prognosis and greater patient burden produced similar rates of distress. Pancreatic cancer patients produced the highest mean scores for symptoms such as anxiety and depression, while Hodgkin's patients exhibited the highest mean scores for hostility.

Conclusions: These results offer vital support for the need to identify high-risk patients through psychosocial screening in order to provide early intervention. To simply perceive cancer patients as a homogeneous group is an erroneous assumption. Failure to detect and treat elevated levels of distress jeopardizes the outcomes of cancer therapies, decreases patients' quality of life, and increases health care costs.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Baltimore / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Prevalence
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Stress, Psychological / epidemiology*
  • Stress, Psychological / etiology*