Screening cancer patients for distress – why it is important and current issues

Alex Mitchell, MBBS, BMedSci, MSc, MD, MCPsyc, of the University of Leicester, UK, gives an overview of his talk on screening cancer patients for distress at the 2016 National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) Conference in Liverpool, UK. Prof. Mitchell starts by explaining that many centers have now introduced screening although the different measures that are used are quite unwieldy. Increasingly we are moving to user-friendly tools, which are simple and easy to interpret for patients. However, even with those tools, the question is how accurate they are and if they are being implemented around the world. Prof. Mitchell explains that without tools, we know that clinicians struggle to detect distress, depression, and anxiety; detecting only less than half of those key mental health areas. With tools, things have improved but unfortunately not as much as we expect. There are in fact many barriers to the implementation of the stress screening and one classic barrier is that clinicians feel they do not have enough time. Sometimes, patients may feel the tools interfere with their consultation, and they would rather be speaking to their clinician one to one than filling out a form. He explains that overall, it is known from the evidence that screening for distress does improve distress management, however, only by a modest degree of about 10-20% overall.

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