Prevalence of emotional symptoms in Chilean oncology patients: potential of the distress thermometer as an ultra-brief screening instrument

16 Jun 2014
Jorge Calderón, Cristóbal Campla, Nicole D'Aguzan, Soledad Barazza, Oslando Padilla, Cesar Sánchez, Silvia Palma, Matías González

Emotional distress (ED) is greater for oncology patients in comparison with the general population, and this has implications for the quality of life of the patient and his/her family, adherence to the treatment, and eventually, survivorship. In general, the detection of these symptoms is low, which explains the need for detection systems appropriate to the clinical reality of the oncology team. The objective of this study is to evaluate for the first time the usefulness of an ultra-brief screening instrument [distress thermometer (DT)], in a group of Chilean oncology patients.
A total of 166 outpatients were evaluated at the Cancer Center of the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, before starting chemotherapy. Two screening instruments were applied: Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS) and DT. The application of HADS resulted in a prevalence of 32.7% of anxiety symptoms (HADS-A ≥ 8), 15.7% of depression symptoms (HADS-D ≥ 8), and 39.8% had a total score of HADS-T ≥ 11. The DT resulted in the prevalence of 32.5% of distress or ED (DT ≥ 5). The validity of the DT was evaluated as a screening tool in comparison with HADS, observing, in relation to the anxiety scale (HADS-A), a sensitivity of 88.9% and specificity of 78.4% (DT ≥ 4); depression (HADS-D), a sensitivity of 69.2% and specificity of 74.3% (DT ≥ 5); and in relation to the total scale (HADS-T), a sensitivity of 68.2% and specificity of 73.0% (DT ≥ 4). This study demonstrates the elevated prevalence of emotional symptoms in Chilean oncology patients, before the start of chemotherapy, and confirms the potential of the DT as a brief screening instrument with easy application. The DT will allow the clinician to increase the detection threshold in the Chilean oncology population, intervene in a timely manner, and contribute to the comprehensive
handling of the oncology patient without affecting the time needed for assistance.