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Jimmie C. Holland, Brian J. Kelly and Mark I. Weinberger

This issue of JNCCN reviews the NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology: Distress Management for 2010, updated by the NCCN Distress Management Panel. The NCCN appointed this multidisciplinary panel, which met first in 1997, to address the barriers to psychosocial care and to develop clinical practice guidelines. 1 The panel members felt that the major barrier, for both physicians and patients, was the negative meaning and stigma attached to words implying the psychological domain, such as psychiatric, psychological, and psychosocial. The panel considered descriptive words that could encompass the range of fears, worries, and concerns of patients with cancer, and proposed the word distress because it could vary in severity from a normal response to a more significant level, consistent with a psychiatric disorder requiring intervention. The word distress also encompasses the range of fears, anxieties, and sadness that patients with cancer experience. The panel then developed guidelines for the management of distress, recommending that patients be first screened for distress with a short, initial, rapid screening question, followed by a second phase during which the doctor or nurse asks about specific problems. This process should be repeated as clinically indicated as part of routine care. Learning from the success of pain management, the panel suggested using a 0 to 10 scale in the form of a Distress Thermometer (DT) to allow patients to indicate their level of distress, either verbally or with pen and paper. Those who scored above a cutoff score for “caseness” (≥ 4) were asked to identify...