Symptom Prevalence and Related Distress in Cancer Patients Undergoing Chemotherapy

  • Thiagarajan, Muthukkumaran (Department of Clinical Oncology, Faculty of Medicine, University of Malaya) ;
  • Chan, Caryn Mei Hsien (Faculty of Health Sciences, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia) ;
  • Fuang, Ho Gwo (Department of Clinical Oncology, Faculty of Medicine, University of Malaya) ;
  • Beng, Tan Seng (Faculty of Health Sciences, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia) ;
  • Atiliyana, MA (Department of Clinical Oncology, Faculty of Medicine, University of Malaya) ;
  • Yahaya, NA (Nursing Unit, University Malaya Medical Centre)
  • Published : 2016.02.05


Background: Much has been done to examine the psychological impact of cancer treatment, but it remains unclear to what extent anxiety and depression is related to symptom prevalence. The present study concerned the characteristics and frequency of distress as related to symptom prevalence in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy in Malaysia. Materials and Methods: Participants were 303 consecutive adult cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy in an academic medical center. The short form Memorial Symptom Assessment Scale (MSAS-SF), which covers three domains of symptoms (global distress, physical- and psychological symptoms) was used to cross-sectionally measure symptom frequency and associated distress via self-reporting. One-way ANOVA and t-tests were used to test mean differences among MSAS-SF subscale scores. Results: Complete data were available for 303 patients. The mean number of symptoms was 14.5. The five most prevalent were fatigue, dry mouth, hair loss, drowsiness and lack of appetite. Overall, symptom burden and frequency were higher than in other published MSAS-SF studies. Higher symptom frequency was also found to be significantly related to greater distress in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. Conclusions: Patients undergoing chemotherapy suffer from multiple physical and psychological symptoms. Better symptom control or palliative care is needed. Greater frequency of reported symptoms may also indicate a subconscious bid by patients for care and reassurance - thus tailored intervention to manage distress should be offered.


Cancer;chemotherapy;symptom prevalence;distress;psychosomatic effects


Supported by : University of Malaya


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