The clinical utility of the distress thermometer: a review

Br J Nurs. 2011;20(4):220-7. doi: 10.12968/bjon.2011.20.4.220.


The Distress Thermometer (DT) is a well validated screening tool, demonstrably sensitive and reasonably specific to the construct of distress in cancer. Its brevity makes it ideal to incorporate into a system of distress management. To ascertain how far this idea has been developed in practice, and to support future research, a literature review was undertaken. Medline, CINAHL, PsycINFO, Embase, ASSIA, British Nursing Index, AMED, CCTR, and HMIC were systematically searched. Forty studies were reviewed that examined the function of the DT alone, together with the problem list (PL), and/or other validated measures. The majority of studies validated the DT against other robust measures of distress in order to establish 'caseness' in these populations, and establish factors associated with distress. Many of the studies recommended that further research should test their findings in clinical practice. A small section of the literature focused on the clinical utility of the DT as a facilitator of consultations, and found it to have potential in this regard. It is concluded that there is enough validation research, and in line with the majority of these studies' recommendations, future research should focus on the utility of DT as part of a structured distress management programme.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Affective Symptoms / diagnosis
  • Affective Symptoms / nursing*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / complications*
  • Neoplasms / nursing*
  • Neoplasms / psychology
  • Nursing Assessment / methods
  • Oncology Nursing / methods*
  • Pain / diagnosis
  • Pain / nursing*