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J Palliat Med. 2012 Sep;15(9):1027-36. doi: 10.1089/jpm.2012.0045. Epub 2012 Aug 1.

Determination of cutpoints for low and high number of symptoms in patients with advanced cancer.

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


While patients with advanced cancer experience a wide range of symptoms, no work has been done to determine an optimal cutpoint for a low versus a high number of symptoms. Analytic approaches that established clinically meaningful cutpoints for the severity of cancer pain and fatigue provided the foundation for this study. The purpose of this study was to determine the optimal cutpoint for low and high numbers of symptoms using a range of potential cutpoints and to determine if those cutpoints distinguished between the two symptom groups on demographic and clinical characteristics and depression, anxiety, and quality of life (QOL). Patients with advanced cancer (n=110) completed a symptom assessment scale, and measures of depression, anxiety, and QOL. Combinations of cutpoints were tested to yield one- and two-cutpoint solutions. Using analysis of variance for QOL scores, the F-ratio that indicated the highest between-group difference was determined to be the optimal cutpoint between low and high number of symptoms. A cutpoint of ≤ 12 symptoms (i.e., 0-12 is low, 13-32 is high) was the optimal cutpoint for total number of symptoms. Significant differences in depression, anxiety, and QOL scores validated this cutpoint. Psychological symptoms had higher occurrence rates in the high symptom group. Findings suggest that a threshold exists between a low and a high number of symptoms in patients with advanced cancer. Psychological symptoms were significantly different between patients in the low versus high symptom groups and may play an important role in QOL outcomes in patients with advanced cancer.

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