Objective: To examine the validity of the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS) in the identification of psychiatric complications of cancer, as defined by a robust criterion standard.
Methods: 50 analyses tested the depression subscale (HADS-D), anxiety subscale (HADS-A) or combined scales (HADS-T) against syndromal (clinical) depression (n=22), syndromal anxiety (n=4) or any mental ill health/distress (n=24), all defined by semi-structured psychiatric interview.
Results: The HADS and its subscales had both strengths and limitations. Overall it appeared to perform marginally better in non-palliative cancer settings. Specific findings for each subscale were as follows. In the identification of depression the HADS-T, HADS-D and HADS-A had a pooled sensitivity and specificity of 82.0%, 77.0%; 71.6%, 82.6% and 80.5%, 77.8%, respectively. All versions performed poorly in case-finding but well in a screening capacity. For anxiety there were no HADS-D studies. The HADS-T and HADS-A had a pooled sensitivity and specificity of 83.9%, 69.9% and 48.7%, 78.7%. They were poor at case-finding but good as screening instruments. For distress (any mental ill health) the HADS-T, HADS-D and HADS-A had a pooled sensitivity and specificity of 72.8%, 80.6%; 75.7%, 66.3% and 65.7%, 71.3%, respectively. When screening for distress and anxiety the HADS-T was the optimal subscale.
Conclusion: For the identification of depression, anxiety or distress in cancer settings, the HADS (including subscales) is not recommended as a case-finding instrument but it may, subject to concerns about its length, be a suitable addition to screening programme.
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