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Clinical Experience with the NCCN Distress Thermometer in Breast Cancer Patients

Michele Dabrowski, Kenneth Boucher, John H. Ward, Margaret M. Lovell, Angela Sandre, Janet Bloch, Lynne Carlquist, Monica Porter, Larry Norman, and Saundra S. Buys

A study was conducted to describe our group's experience using the NCCN Distress Thermometer in an outpatient breast cancer clinic. The NCCN Distress Thermometer was administered to patients attending the breast cancer clinic at Huntsman Cancer Institute during a 4-month period. Effects of disease, treatment, and demographic variables on distress level were analyzed. Patients reporting high distress were contacted by a social worker to determine the cause of the distress. Two hundred and eighty-six (286) subjects completed 403 questionnaires, with 96 patients (34%) reporting high levels of distress (5 or greater on a 10-point scale). No relationship was seen between high distress and stage of disease, type of current treatment, time since diagnosis, age, or other demographic factors. Underlying mental health disorders were associated with a higher level of distress. The Distress Thermometer was a useful method to screen, triage, and prioritize patient interventions. In our experience, the tool promoted communication between the patient and the health care team, which enhanced treating psychosocial and physical symptoms. Methods to optimize the use of this screen are proposed.