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Screening for Distress in Routine Oncological Care—A Survey in 520 Melanoma Patients

Public Library of Science
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0066800
  • Research Article
  • Medicine
  • Dermatology
  • Skin Neoplasms
  • Malignant Skin Neoplasms
  • Melanomas
  • Diagnostic Medicine
  • Test Evaluation
  • Epidemiology
  • Survey Methods
  • Mental Health
  • Psychology
  • Behavior
  • Emotions
  • Non-Clinical Medicine
  • Health Care Policy
  • Quality Of Life
  • Oncology
  • Cancers And Neoplasms
  • Skin Tumors
  • Malignant Melanoma
  • Social And Behavioral Sciences
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychological Stress
  • Social Psychology
  • Economics
  • Medicine


Introduction Despite the increasing incidence of melanoma little is known about patients' emotional distress associated with this disease. Supplemented by the problem list (PL), the distress thermometer (DT) is a recommended screening instrument to measure psychosocial distress in cancer patients. Our objective was to explore the acceptance and the feasibility of the DT and PL as a concise screening tool in an ambulatory setting for routine care and to elucidate determinants of distress in melanoma patients with regard to sociodemographic and clinical variables. Methods Consecutive melanoma outpatients were asked to complete the DT with the PL prior to their scheduled consultation. Demographic and clinical data were obtained from the patients' charts. Clinical data included melanoma stage, time since diagnosis, previous treatment, current treatment, and other cancer disease. Results Out of 734 patients recruited into the study, 520 patients (71%) completed both the DT and the PL. Forty-seven percent met the ≥5 cut-off score for distress. Younger and employed patients reported higher distress than older and retired patients. A cut-off score of ≥5 was closely associated with self-reported emotional sources of distress, with practical problems, especially at work, family problems (dealing with the partner), and physical problems like pain, appearance, getting around, and nausea. Apart from higher distress under current systemic treatment, no associations were found between distress and clinical data. Conclusion The DT together with the PL seems to be an economically reasonable screening tool to measure psychosocial distress in melanoma patients. In particular, younger melanoma patients who are currently employed are prone to experience distress at some point after diagnosis, but there appears to be almost no association between clinical data and the extent of distress. To characterize the impact of distress on disease outcome and quality of life in melanoma patients, further research is needed.

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