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Impact of Psychological Distress on Treatment Timeliness in Oncology Patients at a Safety-Net Hospital

Sheshadri Madhusudhana, Michelle Gates, Daulath Singh, Punita Grover, Mahathi Indaram, and An-Lin Cheng

Background: Psychological distress is common in patients with cancer. Distress can affect patients’ engagement with treatment. We examined the relationship between psychological distress and treatment timeliness in a sample of adult oncology patients at a safety-net hospital. Methods: A retrospective review was conducted of all patients screened for distress at a first outpatient oncology visit between March 1, 2014, and December 31, 2015 (n=500). The analytic sample (n=96) included patients with a new cancer diagnosis and a curative-intent treatment plan for lymphoma (stage I–IV), solid tumor malignancy (stage I–III), or head and neck cancer (stage I–IVb). Distress was measured using the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale. Using Poisson regression, we determined the effects of depression and anxiety on treatment timeliness. Patient age, sex, race/ethnicity, insurance type, cancer site, and cancer stage were included as covariates. Results: Mean patient age was 54 years. The median treatment initiation interval was 28 days. Clinically significant anxiety was present in 34% of the sample, and clinically significant depression in 15%. Greater symptom severity in both anxiety and depression were associated with a longer treatment initiation interval after controlling for demographics and disease factors. The average days to treatment (DTT) was 4 days longer for patients with elevated anxiety scores and for those with elevated depression scores compared with those without. Overall survival was not associated with anxiety, depression, or DTT. Conclusions: In this safety-net patient sample, greater psychological distress was associated with slower time to treatment. As of writing, this is a new finding in the literature, and as such, replication studies utilizing diverse samples and distress measurement tools are needed.