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Psychooncology. 2011 Oct;20(10):1076-83. doi: 10.1002/pon.1815. Epub 2010 Aug 4.

Identification of patient-reported distress by clinical nurse specialists in routine oncology practice: a multicentre UK study.

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Leicester General Hospital, Leicester, UK.



There is uncertainty regarding how well clinical nurse specialists are able to identify distress in cancer settings.


We examined recognition of patient-reported distress by nurse specialists across three sites in the East Midlands (UK). Clinicians were asked to report on their clinical opinion regarding the presence of distress or any mental health complication after routine assessment of 401 mixed cancer patients. Patient-reported distress was defined by the distress thermometer at a cut-off of 4 or higher.


We found that the prevalence of patient-reported distress was 45.4%. The rates for mild, moderate and severe distress were: 23.4, 13.7 and 8.2, respectively. When looking for distress (or any mental health complication) nurse practitioners had a detection sensitivity of 50.5% and specificity 80.0%. Cohen's kappa suggested fair agreement between staff and patients. Examining predictors of distress, clinicians were better able to recognise higher severities of distress (adjusted R(2) =0.87 P=0.001). There was lower sensitivity in palliative stages but no differences according to the type of cancer. There was also higher sensitivity but lower specificity in those clinicians with high self-rated confidence.


Nurses working in cancer settings have difficulty identifying distress using their routine clinical judgement and tend to make more false-negative than false-positive errors. Evidence-based strategies that improve detection of mild and moderate distress are required in routine cancer care.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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