Palliative care for cancer patients receiving chemotherapy in the outpatient setting is important. The aims of this study were 1) to identify symptom prevalence and intensity in cancer patients receiving chemotherapy and 2) to describe longitudinal follow-up data obtained from repeated assessment using the distress thermometer (DT). Questionnaires were distributed to consecutive cancer outpatients newly starting chemotherapy at the first appointment and at every hospital visit. The questionnaire included the severity of 11 symptoms (M. D. Anderson Symptom Inventory [MDASI], Japanese version), the DT, and the need for help in four psychosocial areas (decision-making, economic problems, nutrition, and daily activities). In total, 4000 questionnaires were returned by 462 patients. The frequently identified problems were oral problems (21%), insomnia (19%), psychological distress (defined as a DT score of 6 or more; 15%), help with information and decision-making (14%), severe fatigue (8.2%), and severe appetite loss (6.3%). Cluster analysis identified four symptom clusters: 1) fatigue and somnolence; 2) pain, dyspnea, and numbness; 3) nausea, appetite loss, and constipation; and 4) psychological distress. Of 165 patients with a DT of score 6 or more, 115 patients (70%) demonstrated a DT score below 6 at a median of 17 days follow-up. In the remaining 50 patients who had a DT score of 6 or more at follow-up, 34 patients (68%) had one or more physical symptoms rated at 7 or more on an 11-point numeric rating scale. Compared with patients with a DT score below 6 at follow-up, patients with a DT score of 6 or more at follow-up had higher levels of all physical symptoms. Frequent symptoms experienced by cancer outpatients receiving chemotherapy may be categorized as: 1) psychosocial issues (insomnia, psychological distress, decision-making support); 2) nutrition-gastrointestinal issues (oral problems, appetite loss, nausea); 3) fatigue; and 4) pain, dyspnea, and numbness. Developing a systematic intervention program targeting these four areas is urgently required. The DT score may be highly influenced by coexisting physical symptoms, and future studies to develop an appropriate system to identify patients with psychiatric comorbidity are necessary.
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