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Distress During Radiation Therapy Linked to Missed Appointments and Hospitalization

By Lisa Schulmeister, RN, MN, APRN-BC, FAAN
Patients with cancer who suffer severe distress are more likely to miss appointments during the course of their radiation therapy (RT) and be admitted to the hospital, according to a study conducted by researchers in the radiation oncology department of Massey Cancer Center in Richmond, Virginia.

Researchers collected distress scores on all patients receiving RT between 2015-2016. Only patients receiving external beam radiotherapy with definitive intent were included in the study, and distress was measured using the NCCN Distress Thermometer and Problem List. Distress scores were separated into 4 categories: severe (7-10), moderate (6-4), low (1-3), and none (0).

Among the 54 patients completing the distress tools, there was a significant association between a severe distress score and both missing at least 1 appointment and having a hospital admission during treatment.

Of patients with severe distress scores, 57% missed at least 1 appointment compared with 18% of those patients with no, low, or moderate distress. Half of patients with severe distress scores were admitted during treatment, while only 11% of patients with no, low, or moderate distress were admitted.

The use of distress tools may help identify patients receiving RT (and perhaps other types of cancer treatment) earlier so that distressing symptoms can be addressed and hospitalization avoided, the researchers wrote.
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