Prevalence of psychological distress among cancer patients across the disease continuum

James R. Zabora, Christina G. Blanchard, Elizabeth D. Smith, Cleora S. Roberts, Myra Glajchen, John W. Sharp, Karlynn M. BrintzenhofeSzoc, Jan W. Locher, Elizabeth W. Carr, Sue Best-Castner, Phyllis M. Smith, Deborah Dozier-Hall, Margaret L. Polinsky, Susan C. Hedlund

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

116 Scopus citations


Psychological distress is considered to be common as patients with cancer move beyond their diagnosis and into intensive treatment. However, the absolute prevalence of elevated psychological distress among patients is reported to be about 30% at the diagnosis and when the disease recurs. In all probability, patients enter their initial experience with cancer with preexisting levels of distress. Without intervention, their level of distress remains elevated, whereas patients with a lower level of distress gradually adapt to the diagnosis and treatment. To target interventions, understanding the relationship between a cancer diagnosis and the level of psychological distress at any point in time is essential. This article describes a study undertaken to determine the prevalence of psychological distress across the disease continuum in a sample of 386 adult cancer patients selected at random from 12 oncology outpatient departments across the United States. Psychological distress was measured with the Brief Symptom Inventory, and quality of life was measured with the Functional Living Index-Cancer. The results indicated that the prevalence of psychological distress did not vary significantly across the disease continuum, with the exception of the terminal phase.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)73-87
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Psychosocial Oncology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1997
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Applied Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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