Background: Studies suggest that the period following completion of treatment can be distressing for cancer patients. One potentially important predictor of distress is physical symptoms/side effects during treatment.
Purpose: A longitudinal, observational design was used to examine whether the number of physical symptoms/side effects experienced during treatment was a correlate of cancer-related distress and general distress 4 months after treatment completion, as measured by the Impact of Events Scale and the Mental Health subscale of the Short Form-36, respectively.
Methods: Participants were 151 women who had completed chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy for ductal carcinoma in situ or stage 1 or 2 breast cancer. Hierarchical multiple regression was conducted with relevant sociodemographic, clinical, and psychiatric variables entered as controls.
Results: Greater physical symptoms/side effects predicted greater total cancer-related distress, intrusive thoughts, and general distress. Physical symptoms/side effects did not significantly predict avoidance. Follow-up analyses indicated that the relationship between physical symptoms/side effects and general distress was mediated by both total cancer-related distress and intrusive thoughts.
Conclusions: These results suggest that patients who experience greater physical symptoms/side effects during treatment are at greater risk for later cancer-related distress and, in turn, general distress. Future research should evaluate whether early intervention with these patients is effective in preventing or reducing distress in the posttreatment period.