An examination of distress, sleep, and fatigue in metastatic breast cancer patients



Objective: Few studies have used rapid screening instruments to document the prevalence of distress among metastatic breast cancer patients. This study used the one-item Distress Thermometer (DT) to assess distress in this population. Anxiety and depressive symptoms, sleep problems, fatigue, and mental health service use were assessed for patients who met the cutoff on the DT for probable distress (score ⩾4).

Methods: A total of 173 metastatic breast cancer patients rated their distress on the DT. Respondents who met study eligibility criteria (n = 90), including a score ⩾4 on the DT, completed a telephone survey 1 week later that assessed anxiety, depressive symptoms, sleep problems, and fatigue. Associations of study outcomes with demographic and medical characteristics were computed.

Results: Sixty percent of the 173 patients met the cutoff for probable distress on the DT. Meeting this cutoff was not associated with age, ethnicity, time since diagnosis, or medical treatments. The majority (61%) of respondents who were classified as distressed on the DT reported clinically significant anxiety or depressive symptoms 1 week later. On average, these patients also showed significant fatigue and sleep disturbance, with 70% reporting decrements in sleep quality. Only 29% of patients with significant anxiety or depressive symptoms accessed mental health services.

Conclusions: Results point to a high prevalence of distress, sleep problems, and fatigue across demographic and medical subgroups of metastatic breast cancer patients. A rapid one-item screening tool may be used to identify patients with a potential need for psychosocial assessment and intervention. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.