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Cancer Nurs. 2011 Sep-Oct;34(5):345-53. doi: 10.1097/NCC.0b013e318202520a.

Differences in self-reported attentional fatigue between patients with breast and prostate cancer at the initiation of radiation therapy.

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  • 1School of Nursing, University of California, San Francisco, California 94143-0610, USA.



Attentional fatigue is experienced as a decreased ability to concentrate, engage in purposeful activity, and maintain social relationships when there are competing demands on attention. Breast and prostate cancer are the 2 most common cancers in women and men, respectively. Most previous studies on self-reported attentional fatigue evaluated patients with breast cancer.


The objectives of the study were to determine if self-reported attentional fatigue differed in patients with breast cancer and prostate cancer before radiation therapy (RT) and to determine the relationships between attentional fatigue and other symptoms in these 2 groups.


Patients (n = 155) completed questionnaires before RT. Descriptive statistics, Pearson correlations, and analysis of covariance were used for data analyses.


After controlling for age, patients with breast cancer reported significantly higher levels of attentional fatigue. In both groups, more attentional fatigue correlated significantly with more anxiety, depression, sleep disturbance, and physical fatigue. These correlations were stronger for patients with breast cancer.


The present study is the first to identify differences in self-reported attentional fatigue between these 2 groups before RT. Additional research is warranted to determine factors that contribute to these differences, as well as mechanisms that underlie the development of attentional fatigue.


Clinicians should consider the capacity of their patients to direct attention when learning about RT and other treatments. It is important to simplify confusing healthcare terminology and reinforce teaching that is most important both verbally and in writing. Appropriate interventions for anxiety and depression may decrease attentional fatigue in these patients.

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