Skip Navigation LinksHome > November/December 2013 - Volume 36 - Issue 6 > Comparison Between Patient-Reported and Clinician-Observed S...
Cancer Nursing:
doi: 10.1097/NCC.0b013e318269040f
Articles: Online Only

Comparison Between Patient-Reported and Clinician-Observed Symptoms in Oncology

Xiao, Canhua PhD, RN; Polomano, Rosemary PhD, RN, FAAN; Bruner, Deborah Watkins PhD, RN, FAAN

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Symptom assessment is critical to understand the effectiveness of cancer treatment. Traditionally, clinicians have provided the information about cancer patients’ symptoms. However, current research has shown that there are discrepancies on symptom assessment results reported by patients themselves and clinicians.


The objective of this study was to present an integrative review on studies comparing patient-reported symptoms and clinician-observed symptoms in patients with a diagnosis of cancer.


This was a review of published articles from PubMed, CINAHL, and the Cochrane Database, using the key words symptom or toxicity, and patient-reported, patient-rated, patient-assessed or patient-evaluated, which were combined with cancer, oncology, neoplasm, or tumor.


Clinicians have the propensity to underestimate the incidence, severity, or distress of symptoms experienced by cancer patients. These discrepancies appear to be consistently demonstrated over time and become even more apparent when symptoms are more severe and distressing to patients. In addition, patients report both symptom frequency and severity earlier than clinicians do; patients’ symptom assessments are more predictable for daily health status, whereas clinicians’ symptom measurements are more related to clinical outcomes.


Healthcare professionals must appreciate that there can be discordance between what they perceive and what patients experience and report. Further research needs to address methodological limitations and weaknesses of existing literature.

Implications for Practice:

Symptoms reported by patients themselves provide the necessary and different insight into cancer and its treatment, compared with those observed by clinicians. The use of patient-reported symptoms should be incorporated into routine clinical practice and not just research studies.

Copyright © 2013 Wolters Kluwer Health | Lippincott Williams & Wilkins


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