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J Clin Oncol. 2002 Aug 15;20(16):3495-507.

Symptom experiences: perceptual accuracy between advanced-stage cancer patients and family caregivers in the home care setting.

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  • 1Helen Glass Centre for Nursing, Rm. 312, Faculty of Nursing, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Manitoba, R3T 2N2, Canada.



This study used a comparative descriptive design to compare family caregivers' and advanced-stage cancer patients' perceptions of patients' multidimensional symptom experiences on presence, frequency, severity, and distress.


A convenience sample of 98 dyads, composed of advanced-stage heterogeneous cancer patients and their caregivers, completed the Memorial Symptom Assessment Scale in the home care setting on a one-time basis. This scale is a 32-item Likert-type scale for assessing the presence, frequency, severity, and distress arising from symptoms in cancer patients.


There was confirmation of trends previously described in related studies where, for example, caregivers tend to overreport on symptom experiences. However, the degree of absolute difference between patient and caregiver responses was normally around 1 unit (on a theoretical range of 0 to 4 units). Levels of patient-caregiver agreement were better on more concrete questions related to symptom frequency, severity, and distress than on broad questions related to the presence of a symptom. Patients and caregivers achieved better levels of agreement on physical versus psychological symptoms.


The findings indicated that family caregivers can provide reasonable proxy or complementary reports on patient symptom experiences of frequency, severity, and distress. However, family caregivers have greater difficulty in achieving high levels of accuracy on psychological versus physical symptoms.

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