Longitudinal Assessment of Distress among Veterans with Incidental Pulmonary Nodules

Ann Am Thorac Soc. 2016 Nov;13(11):1983-1991. doi: 10.1513/AnnalsATS.201607-555OC.


Rationale: Millions of patients are diagnosed with pulmonary nodules every year. Increased distress may be a common harm, but methods of mitigating this distress are unclear.

Objectives: We aimed to determine whether high-quality communication regarding the discovery of a pulmonary nodule is associated with a lower level of patient distress.

Methods: We conducted a prospective, repeated-measures cohort study of 121 patients with newly reported, incidentally detected pulmonary nodules. The primary exposure was participant-reported quality of communication regarding the nodule. Secondary exposures included communication measures regarding participants' values, preferences, and decision making. The main outcome was nodule-related distress measured using the Impact of Event Scale. We used adjusted generalized estimating equations to measure the association between nodule communication quality and at least mild distress.

Measurements and main results: Most participants (57%) reported at least mild distress at least once. While average distress scores decreased over time, one-fourth still had elevated distress after 2 years of surveillance for a nodule. The average calculated risk of cancer at baseline was 10% (SD, 13%), but 52.4% believed they had a greater than 30% risk of lung cancer at baseline, and this percentage remained fairly constant at all visits. High-quality nodule communication was associated with decreased odds of distress (adjusted odds ratio, 0.42; 95% confidence interval, 0.24-0.73). Lower-quality communication processes regarding participants' values and preferences were also associated with increased odds of distress, but concordance between the actual and preferred decision-making roles was not.

Conclusions: Among patients with incidentally discovered pulmonary nodules, distress is common and persistent for about 25%. Many participants substantially overestimate their risk of lung cancer. Incorporating patients' values and preferences into communication about a pulmonary nodule and its evaluation may mitigate distress.

Keywords: health communication; lung cancer; pulmonary nodule.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Communication*
  • Decision Making*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidental Findings
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Lung Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Preference / psychology*
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Prospective Studies
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Risk Assessment
  • Self Report
  • Solitary Pulmonary Nodule / diagnosis*
  • Stress, Psychological / epidemiology*
  • United States
  • Veterans / psychology*