• cancer;
  • screening;
  • psychological distress;
  • physical symptom distress;
  • cancer inpatients;
  • symptom assessment;
  • oncology


Objective: Although several large distress studies have been conducted in outpatient oncology treatment settings, there are few, if any, studies that describe the incidence of psychological and physical distress in the inpatient oncology treatment setting. This pilot study hypothesized that inpatients experience levels of psychological distress that are equivalent to or greater than those reported in large outpatient studies. The study also sought to contribute to physical and psychological symptom distress incidence data.

Methods: Using two measures designed to screen for psychological and physical distress, the Brief Symptom Inventory—18 and the M.D. Anderson Symptom Inventory, 52 oncology patients were screened within 24 h of admission to a hospital oncology unit.

Results: Nearly two-thirds of the inpatient respondents reported levels of psychological distress that were not only within the clinically significant range but also at a rate that was nearly double that found in the outpatient distress screening studies that have been conducted to date. The physical symptoms most often rated at the severe level included fatigue (34.6%), pain (27.4%), and dry mouth (25.5%).

Conclusions: Failure to screen for psychological and physical symptom distress has lead to under recognition of a population that may have higher levels of distress than their outpatient counterparts and could potentially lead to uneven access to biopsychosocial support. Results support the notion that routinely screening for psychological and physical distress should become a first step in the assessment of the biopsychosocial needs of people receiving inpatient treatment for cancer. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.