Patient distress as a response to a cancer diagnosis is common, though distress screening and access to quality interventions is not universal or standardized throughout the U.S. healthcare system. A comprehensive screening approach by an interdisciplinary team can ensure standards be integrated into an outpatient facility.

A cross-sectional pilot study was conducted at a community cancer center in Austin, TX, to determine the feasibility of the Supportive Care Screening Questionnaire that includes the Edmonton Symptom Assessment Scale and a patient needs assessment form. During the 90-day study, the questionnaire was used to assess distress by interdisciplinary clinic staff. 

Sabrina Q. Mikan, PhD, RN, CNS, Penelope DeCou, LCSW, Debra Patt, MD, MPH, MBA, and Patricia Carter, PhD, RN, CNS, presented the findings during a poster session at the ONS 41st Annual Congress in San Antonio, TX. The poster was titled “Distress Screening: A Pilot Study Utilizing the ESAS Scale in Community Oncology.” 

Among 100 patients, 99% were screened for depression and 97% were screened for anxiety. 

The screening helped the researchers identify the following needs among patients coping with cancer.

  • Personal appearance/hair loss (31%)
  • Nervousness (29%)
  • Depression (22%)
  • Fear (18%) 
  • Anger (11%)
  • Sexual health (10%)
  • Spirituality (6%)
  • Guilt (4%)
  • Fertility (2%)

They also found that 16% of patients were interested in counseling and 14% were interested in support group referrals. Patients also had financial concerns, including employment concerns (13%) and wanting guidance on social security (8%). 

“Distress screening serves to link patients to appropriate psychosocial professionals and community resources to improve coping and quality of life during their cancer journey,” the researchers concluded. “Identifying the correct assessment tool and time intervals for assessment in a patient’s treatment is critical.”

The researchers did note that although this pilot study demonstrated the feasibility of a screening process in a community clinic, future studies are needed to evaluate the need for ongoing distress screening through the cancer continuum. 

Mikan, S.Q., DeCou, P., Patt, D., & Carter, P. (2016). Distress screening: A pilot study utilizing the ESAS scale in community oncology. Poster presented at the ONS 41st Annual Congress, San Antonio, TX, April 28–May 1, 2016.