Screening for distress in cancer patients: A multicenter, nationwide study in Italy

Luigi Grassi, Christoffer Johansen, Maria Antonietta Annunziata, Eleonora Capovilla, Anna Costantini, Paolo Gritti, Riccardo Torta, Marco Bellani

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


BACKGROUND: Routine screening for distress is internationally recommended as a necessary standard for good cancer care, given its high prevalence and negative consequences on quality of life. The objective of the current study was to contribute to the Italian validation of the Distress Thermometer (DT) to determine whether the single item DT compared favorably with referent criterion measures. METHODS: In total, 1108 outpatients with cancer were recruited from 38 representative oncology centers in Italy. Each participant completed the DT and a list of 34 possible cancer-related problems (the Problem List), the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS), the 18-item Brief Symptom Inventory (BSI-18), and a short visual analog scale to determine the understandability of the tools. RESULTS: Receiver operating characteristic analysis revealed that DT cutoff scores ≥4 and ≥5 had optimal sensitivity and specificity relative to both HADS and BSI-18 cutoff scores for general caseness and more severe psychological distress, respectively. Patients with DT scores ≥4 (cases) were more likely to be women; to have had psychological problems in the past; to report more stressful events in the last year; and to currently have more family, emotional, and physical problems related to cancer or cancer treatment. Patients indicated that the DT was easier to fill out and to understand than the HADS, but not the BSI-18. CONCLUSIONS: The DT was identified as a simple and effective screening instrument for detecting distress in Italian cancer patients as a first step toward more properly referring those in need to psychosocial intervention.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1714-1721
Number of pages8
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - May 1 2013


  • cancer
  • education
  • emotional distress
  • psycho-oncology
  • screening

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cancer Research
  • Oncology


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