Screening for Distress and Health Outcomes in Head and Neck Cancer

Curr Oncol. 2022 May 24;29(6):3793-3806. doi: 10.3390/curroncol29060304.


Head and neck cancers (HNC) have higher rates of emotional distress than other cancer types and the general population. This paper compares the prevalence of emotional distress in HNC across various distress screening measures and examines whether significant distress or distress screening are associated with cancer-related survival. A retrospective observational cohort design was employed, with data collected from the Distress Assessment and Response Tool (DART) and linkages to administrative databases from 2010 to 2016. Descriptive and prevalence data were reported using multiple concurrently administered distress tools, including the Patient Health Questionaire-9 (PHQ-9), Generalized Anxiety Disorders-7 (GAD-7), Edmonton Symptom Assessment Scale-revised (ESAS-r), and MD Anderson Symptom Index-Head and Neck module (MDASI-HN). Across measures, 7.8 to 28.1% of the sample reported clinically significant emotional distress, with PHQ-9 and GAD-7 identifying lowest prevalence of moderate/severe distress, and the ultrashort distress screens within ESAS-r and MDASI-HN performing equivalently. Cox hazards models were used in univariate and multivariate survival analyses. ESAS depression (≥4), but not anxiety, was associated with increased risk of cancer-related mortality and patient completion of DART was associated with greater cancer-related survival. The findings underscore the importance of implementing routine distress screening for HNC populations and the utility of ultra-brief screening measures.

Keywords: ESAS; GAD-7; MDASI; PHQ-9; anxiety; depression; distress screening; emotional distress; head and neck cancer; survival.

Publication types

  • Observational Study

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety / epidemiology
  • Anxiety / etiology
  • Early Detection of Cancer*
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms*
  • Humans
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care
  • Retrospective Studies

Grant support

This research received no external funding.