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Alex J. Mitchell

Clinicians are increasingly seeking efficient methods to identify distress in cancer settings, using short screening tools with fewer than 14 items that take less than 5 minutes to complete. This article examines the value of these tools for identifying cancer-related distress, defined by semi-structured interview. An updated search, appraisal, and meta-analysis, with adjustments made for heterogeneity and underlying prevalence variations, identified 45 potentially useful short and ultra-short tools, although most were intended to help diagnose depression, with few targeted at distress (or anxiety). Very few studies attempted robust validation in cancer settings. When studies were limited to those tested against distress defined by semi-structured interview, only 6 methods had been validated, namely the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS; 13 studies, 14 items), the Distress Thermometer (DT; 4 studies, 1 item), a single verbal question (4 studies, 1 item), the Psychological Distress Inventory (PDI; 1 study, 13 items), combined DT and an impact thermometer (1 study, 2 items), and combined 2 verbal questions (1 study, 2 items). Comparing these 6 approaches side-by-side suggests that for screening, all tools have approximately the same accuracy. Therefore, choice of a short screening tool for distress can be based on acceptability or cost-effectiveness. Here, best evidence supports use of the DT or single verbal question. Remarkably, the overall accuracy of these single-item approaches seems comparable to that of the 14-item HADS (total score), whereas their efficiency is superior. For case-finding, data are sparse but no method seems to be entirely satisfactory. Current evidence suggests that the optimal short methods for identifying distress are 2 verbal questions or PDI. Of these approaches, the 2 verbal questions has superior efficiency. All short methods may be augmented by repeated application, an assessment of unmet needs (problem list), and clarification regarding the need for professional help. No screening tool should be seen as an alternative to careful clinical assessment and management. Despite much interest in the development of short and ultra-short tools, data on validation and implementation are currently incomplete. Nevertheless, short methods seem to be at least as successful as the HADS, although substantially more efficient and hence more acceptable, and therefore may be a suitable initial method of assessment in busy clinical settings.

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Sylvie D. Lambert, Kerrie Clover, Julie F. Pallant, Benjamin Britton, Madeleine T. King, Alex J. Mitchell, and Gregory Carter

Background: The use of different depression self-report scales warrants co-calibration studies to establish relationships between scores from 2 or more scales. The goal of this study was to examine variations in measurement across 5 commonly used scales to measure depression among patients with cancer: Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale-Depression subscale (HADS-D), Centre for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale (CES-D), Patient Health Questionnaire-9 (PHQ-9), Beck Depression Inventory-II (BDI-II), and Depression Anxiety and Stress Scale-Depression subscale (DASS-D). Methods: The depression scales were completed by 162 patients with cancer. Participants were also assessed by the major depressive episode module of the Structured Clinical Interview for Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition. Rasch analysis and receiver operating characteristic curves were performed. Results: Rasch analysis of the 5 scales indicated that these all measured depression. The HADS and BDI-II had the widest measurement range, whereas the DASS-D had the narrowest range. Co-calibration revealed that the cutoff scores across the scales were not equivalent. The mild cutoff score on the PHQ-9 was easier to meet than the mild cutoff score on the CES-D, BDI-II, and DASS-D. The HADS-D possible cutoff score was equivalent to cutoff scores for major to severe depression on the other scales. Optimal cutoff scores for clinical assessment of depression were in the mild to moderate depression range for most scales. Conclusions: The labels of depression associated with the different scales are not equivalent. Most markedly, the HADS-D possible case cutoff score represents a much higher level of depression than equivalent scores on other scales. Therefore, use of different scales will lead to different estimates of prevalence of depression when used in the same sample.