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The NCCN Guideline for Distress Management: A Case for Making Distress the Sixth Vital Sign

Jimmie C. Holland and Barry D. Bultz

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Implementing Routine Screening for Distress, the Sixth Vital Sign, for Patients With Head and Neck and Neurologic Cancers

Barry D. Bultz, Amy Waller, Jodi Cullum, Paula Jones, Johan Halland, Shannon L. Groff, Catriona Leckie, Lisa Shirt, Scott Blanchard, Harold Lau, Jacob Easaw, Konrad Fassbender, and Linda E. Carlson

This study examined the benefits of incorporating screening for distress as a routine part of care for patients with head and neck and neurologic cancers in a tertiary cancer center. Using a comparative 2-cohort pre-post implementation sequential design, consecutive outpatients with head and neck and neurologic cancers were recruited into 2 separate cohorts. Cohort 1 included patients attending clinics during April 2010, before the implementation of the screening program. The program was then implemented and patients completed the Screening for Distress Minimum Dataset (the Edmonton Symptom Assessment System [ESAS] and the Canadian Problem Checklist [CPC]) at each clinic visit. Cohort 2 included patients attending clinics during March 2011. Consenting patients completed screening and outcome measures (ESAS, CPC, and either the Functional Assessment of Cancer Therapy-Brain or the Functional Assessment of Cancer Therapy-Head and Neck). A total of 146 patients (78 head and neck and 68 neurologic) provided data for Cohort 1, and 143 (81 head and neck and 62 neurologic) provided data for Cohort 2. Compared with Cohort 1, patients with neurologic cancers in Cohort 2 reported significantly higher scores on the Functional Assessment of Cancer Therapy: General total and emotional quality of life subscale; fewer high scores (≥4) on the ESAS breathlessness item; and fewer problems with fears/worries, frustration/anger, finding meaning in life, and worry about friends/family. Head and neck patients in Cohort 2 reported significantly higher emotional quality of life and fewer problems with eating and weight than those in Cohort 1. Although no definitive causal attributions can be made, patients exposed to routine screening for distress reported better well-being and fewer emotional, physical, and practical problems than historical controls.

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Outcomes From a Patient-Centered, Interprofessional, Palliative Consult Team in Oncology

Andrea Feldstain, Barry D. Bultz, Janet de Groot, Amane Abdul-Razzak, Leonie Herx, Lyle Galloway, Srini Chary, and Aynharan Sinnarajah

Background: Palliative care aims to improve suffering and quality of life for patients with life-limiting disease. This study evaluated an interdisciplinary palliative consultation team for outpatients with advanced cancer at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre. This team traditionally offered palliative medicine and recently integrated a specialized psychosocial clinician. Historic patient-reported clinical outcomes were reviewed. There were no a priori hypotheses. Methods: A total of 180 chart reviews were performed in 8 sample months in 2015 and 2016; 114 patients were included. All patients were referred for management of complex cancer symptomatology by oncology or palliative care clinicians. Patients attended initial interviews in person; palliative medicine follow-ups were largely performed by telephone, and psychosocial appointments were conducted in person for those who were interested and had psychosocial concerns. Chart review included collection of demographics, medical information, and screening for distress measures at referral, initial consult, and discharge. Results: A total of 51% of the patient sample were men, 81% were living with a partner, and 87% had an advanced cancer diagnosis. Patients were grouped based on high, moderate, or low scores for 5 symptoms (pain, fatigue, depression, anxiety, and well-being). High scores on all 5 symptoms decreased from referral to discharge. Pain and anxiety decreased in the moderate group. All 5 low scores increased significantly. Sleep, frustration/anger, sense of burdening others, and sensitivity to cold were less frequently endorsed by discharge. Conclusions: Patients who completed this interdisciplinary palliative consult service appeared to experience a reduction in their most severe symptoms. Visits to patients during existing appointments or having them attend a half-day clinic appears to have reached those referred. With interdisciplinary integration, clinicians are able to collaborate to address patient care needs. Considerations include how to further integrate palliative and psychosocial care to achieve additional benefits and ongoing monitoring of changes in symptom burden.