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Clin Oncol (R Coll Radiol). 2008 Feb;20(1):76-82. Epub 2007 Nov 5.

Symptom clusters in cancer patients with brain metastases.

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  • 1Rapid Response Radiotherapy Program, Odette Cancer Centre, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, University of Toronto, Ontario, Canada.



To explore the presence of symptom clusters in patients with brain metastases.


Patients with brain metastases referred to an outpatient palliative radiotherapy clinic were asked to rate their symptom distress using the Edmonton Symptom Assessment Scale (ESAS). Baseline demographic data were obtained. To determine interrelationships between symptoms, a principal component analysis with 'varimax rotation' was carried out on the nine ESAS items. Follow-up was carried out by telephone 1, 2, 4, 8 and 12 weeks after radiation.


Between January 1999 and January 2002, 170 patients with brain metastases provided complete baseline data on the ESAS. The most common primary cancer sites were lung, breast and gastrointestinal. Fatigue was the highest scored symptom, followed by a poor sense of well-being, anxiety, drowsiness and poor appetite. The four most prevalent symptoms were fatigue (91.7%), a poor sense of well-being (88.1%), drowsiness (82.2%) and anxiety (82.1%). Three symptom clusters were found at baseline. Cluster 1 included fatigue, drowsiness, shortness of breath and pain. Cluster 2 included anxiety and depression. Cluster 3 included poor appetite, nausea and a poor sense of well-being. Fatigue, nausea, drowsiness and poor appetite showed an overall increase in symptom severity over time; whereas fatigue, drowsiness and poor appetite were experienced to some extent by a greater proportion of patients at week 12 compared with baseline. Symptom clusters emerged in all weeks of follow-up, but consisted of different symptoms in each week.


Symptom clusters seemed to exist in patients with brain metastases before and after whole brain radiotherapy. However, different symptoms clustered at various time points. The effectiveness of whole brain radiotherapy in providing palliative relief to patients with brain metastases needs to be explored with regards to symptom clusters.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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