Psychological distress in patients with pancreatic cancer--an understudied group

Psychooncology. 2010 Dec;19(12):1313-20. doi: 10.1002/pon.1697.


Background: Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer-related death in the United States, unsuccessful in significantly improving 5-year survival. A diagnosis of pancreatic cancer may be associated with increased psychological distress, yet remarkably little is known about the degree of psychological distress experienced by these patients at the time of diagnosis and treatment.

Method: In a cross-sectional study, 304 patients with pancreatic cancer and 7749 patients with other cancer diagnoses completed the Brief Symptom Inventory (BSI) or the Brief Symptom Inventory-Shortened Version (BSI-18) and the Problem Common Checklist (PCL) during outpatient registration. Sociodemographic characteristics were collected from patients' clinical files.

Results: A higher percentage of pancreatic cancer patients reported elevated distress across each subscale of the BSI and BSI-18 when compared with those diagnosed with other cancer diagnoses as a group. The most notable difference was established on the depression subscale, with 28.8% of pancreatic patients reporting elevated depression compared with 18.5% of other cancer diagnoses. In pancreatic patients, a significant difference was also found in the percentage of males endorsing high depression levels when compared with females (34.0 vs 22.6%, p<0.05).

Conclusions: Pancreatic cancer patients demonstrate elevated levels of psychological distress. This should alert providers to be vigilant in evaluating patients for distress and to provide appropriate referrals. The endorsement of fatigue and pain, along with the observed gender differences, suggest that early distress management interventions may need to include components targeted to these issues.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Depression / diagnosis
  • Depression / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Personality Inventory
  • Psychological Tests
  • Psychometrics
  • Regression Analysis
  • Self Report
  • Sex Factors
  • Stress, Psychological / diagnosis
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology*
  • United States