Advancing Spiritual Care Through Research

Correlates of elevated distress thermometer scores in breast cancer patients

Purpose Distress is prevalent in breast cancer patients and can be detrimental to quality of life, performance status, treatment adherence, and satisfaction with medical care. The National Comprehensive Cancer Network developed the distress thermometer (DT) as a self-assessment tool for screening distress in cancer patients. Given time and financial constraints, it is important to refine screening criteria to identify patients with elevated risk for distress. In this study, we identify clinical and epidemiological factors that are associated with an increased likelihood of elevated DT scores (≥4 and ≥7). Methods We assessed 229 female patients with the DT at their initial consultation for breast cancer at the Huntsman Cancer Hospital between September 2007 and December 2008. Descriptive statistics and logistic regression models were used to analyze DT and patient data. Results Patients undergoing their initial distress thermometer screening within 30 days of receiving a diagnosis of breast cancer had the highest likelihood of scoring ≥4 and ≥7 on the DT screening tool. Emotional and physical concerns were associated with scores ≥4 and scores ≥7. Spiritual concerns became significant in patients reporting scores ≥7. Patients who were non-Caucasian, unemployed, had a prior history of depression, presented for recurrent disease, or who had been recently diagnosed had a higher likelihood of scores ≥4 and scores ≥7. Conclusions Four groups of patients should be targeted for aggressive screening; patients with a prior diagnosis of depression, patients presenting with recurrent disease, unemployed patients, and non-Caucasian patients. Interventions should address physical, emotional, and spiritual concerns.