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J Pain Symptom Manage. 2010 Feb;39(2):241-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jpainsymman.2009.06.010. Epub 2009 Dec 5.

A single set of numerical cutpoints to define moderate and severe symptoms for the Edmonton Symptom Assessment System.

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Palliative Care Department, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario M4N 3M5, Canada.


Symptom intensity in cancer and palliative care patients is frequently assessed using a 0-10 ranking score. Results are then often grouped into verbal categories (mild, moderate, or severe) to guide therapy. Numerical cutpoints separating these categories are often variable, with previous work suggesting different cutpoints across different symptoms, which is unwieldy for clinical use. The Edmonton Symptom Assessment Symptom (ESAS) assesses nine common symptoms using this 0-10 scale. The primary aim of this study was to examine the relationship between the numerical and verbal scores using the ESAS and to identify a single cutpoint to separate severe from nonsevere symptomatology. A second goal was to similarly identify a cutpoint to separate moderate or severe from none or mild symptom intensity. Consenting patients (n=400) completed both a standard ESAS and an identical form that replaced 0-10 with none, mild, moderate, and severe. Receiver operating characteristic curves were generated to identify the best fit between sensitivity and specificity. For the "severe" ranking, six symptoms had a best fit of 7, with sensitivity for the remaining three symptoms still greater than 80%. For the combined grouping of moderate or severe, results were less uniform. A cutpoint of either 4 or 5 would be supported by our data, with a greater sensitivity using 4 and improved specificity using 5 as the cutpoint. Across all ESAS symptoms, then, 7 or higher represents a severe symptom by patient definition, whereas a cutpoint of either 4 or 5 could reasonably define combined moderate and severe symptoms.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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