Symptom burden clusters: A challenge for targeted symptom management. A longitudinal study examining symptom burden clusters in breast cancer

Elisabeth Kenne Sarenmalm, Maria Browall, Fannie Gaston-Johansson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Scopus citations


Context Although there has been a growing interest in cancer symptom clusters, less is known about symptom burden clusters. Objectives To explore clusters of burdensome symptoms over time, the impact on health status and quality of life, and coping capacity in patients with breast cancer. Methods In this longitudinal study, a sample of 206 patients completed the Memorial Symptom Assessment Scale, the European Organization for Research and Treatment of Cancer Quality of Life Questionnaire, and the Sense of Coherence scale, at diagnosis of primary or recurrent breast cancer, and at one-, three-, and six-month follow-ups. Results Three clusters of burdensome symptoms were identified: emotional symptom burden, gastrointestinal symptom burden, and unwellness symptom burden. Most burdensome were emotional symptoms, with worrying, feeling sad, and feeling nervous as the core or defining symptoms. Over time, additional symptoms escalated the emotional symptom burden. The gastrointestinal symptom burden, with "change in the way food tastes" as a core symptom, was more often associated with chemotherapy. Less stable over time, the unwellness symptom burden could be interpreted as short- and long-term side effects of hormonal therapy. Of these clusters, only the emotional symptom burden cluster significantly diminished health status and quality of life. Patients reporting lower coping capacity experienced higher levels of symptom burden. Conclusion This study provides insights into symptom burden clusters over time. A challenging approach toward symptom management in clinical oncology is to target the burden of a symptom cluster and to recognize the need for individually designed interventions to ameliorate symptom burden in cancer patients.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)731-741
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Pain and Symptom Management
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2014


  • Breast cancer
  • health status
  • quality of life
  • sense of coherence
  • symptom burden
  • symptom burden clusters

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Nursing(all)
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


Dive into the research topics of 'Symptom burden clusters: A challenge for targeted symptom management. A longitudinal study examining symptom burden clusters in breast cancer'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this