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Screening for distress in survivorship

Girgis, Afaf; Smith, Allan B.; Durcinoska, Ivana

Current Opinion in Supportive and Palliative Care: March 2018 - Volume 12 - Issue 1 - p 86–91
doi: 10.1097/SPC.0000000000000328

Purpose of review The current review provides an overview of recent research and other initiatives aimed at increasing and/or systematizing screening for distress in cancer survivors. It is timely given an increasing drive internationally to implement distress screening as part of routine cancer care.

Recent findings Screening using brief validated tools is recommended and the single-item distress thermometer continues to be the international screening tool of choice. Although debate continues regarding the most appropriate cut-off distress thermometer score to identify clinically distressed patients, review of checked items from the accompanying problem list can pinpoint sources of distress, to inform targeted intervention. An integrated approach should include screening, and if required, assessment/referral and intervention. However, whilst distress screening is associated with some impact on referral, especially its timeliness, delivery of evidence-based treatments to address identified distress may be limited by patients declining help and a lack of support services.

Summary Although screening for distress in routine care holds promise for reducing costs and enhancing health system efficiency, its implementation across cancer services is variable. Further research is required to evaluate screening implementation and sustainability in routine care, as well as the feasibility of distress screening in long-term cancer survivors who are no longer in regular contact with cancer centres.

Centre for Oncology Education and Research Translation (CONCERT), Psycho-Oncology Research Group, Ingham Institute for Applied Medical Research, South Western Sydney Clinical School, University of New South Wales, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Correspondence to Afaf Girgis, Psycho-Oncology Research Group, Ingham Institute for Applied Medical Research, Liverpool Hospital, Locked Bag 7103, Liverpool BC 1871, NSW, Australia. Tel: +61 2 8738 9246; e-mail:

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