Cancer-Related Distress: Revisiting the Utility of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network Distress Thermometer Problem List in Women With Gynecologic Cancers

JCO Oncol Pract. 2020 Aug;16(8):e649-e659. doi: 10.1200/JOP.19.00471. Epub 2020 Feb 24.


Purpose: The Distress Thermometer (DT) includes a measure of cancer-related distress and a list of self-reported problems. This study evaluated the utility of the DT problem list in identifying concerns most associated with distress and poorer quality of life (QOL) in survivors of gynecologic cancer.

Methods: Demographic, clinical, psychosocial functioning, and DT data were described among 355 women participating in a gynecologic cancer cohort. Problems from the DT list were ranked by prevalence, distress, and QOL. Logistic regression models explored factors associated with problems that were common (≥ 25% prevalence) and associated with distress and QOL.

Results: The average age of participants was 59.9 years (standard deviation [SD], 10.8 years). Most participants were non-Hispanic white (97%) and had ovarian (44%) or uterine (42%) cancer. The mean DT score was 2.7 (SD, 2.7); participants reported a mean of 7.3 problems (SD, 5.9 problems). The most common problems were fatigue (53.6%), worry (49.9%), and tingling (46.3%); least common problems were childcare (2.1%), fevers (2.1%), and substance abuse (1.1%). Report of some common problems, including tingling, sleep, memory, skin issues, and appearance, was not associated with large differences in distress or QOL. In contrast, some rarer problems such as childcare, treatment decisions, eating, housing, nausea, and bathing/dressing were associated with worse distress or QOL. Younger age, lower income, and chemotherapy were risk factors across common problems that were associated with worse distress or QOL (fatigue, nervousness, sadness, fears, and pain).

Conclusion: The DT problem list did not easily identify concerns most associated with distress and low QOL in patients with gynecologic cancer. Adaptations that enable patients to report their most distressing concerns would enhance clinical utility of this commonly used tool.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms*
  • Quality of Life*
  • Stress, Psychological / epidemiology
  • Thermometers