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Focus on early cancer symptom management needed, study finds

Mar 1, 2018

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Cancer symptoms affect patients most in the first month after diagnosis, a new study published today in the Journal of Clinical Oncology has found. 

Using patient-reported symptom data collected from Cancer Care Ontario symptom assessment surveys, a team of Sunnybrook researchers examined how people were doing up to one year after cancer diagnosis.

The symptom assessment surveys ask patients to report on cancer symptoms like fatigue, nausea, pain, and anxiety each time they visit a regional cancer centre. Researchers used survey results from 120,745 people.

“This study provides us with a baseline look at how patients are coping with cancer symptoms,” said Dr. Natalie Coburn, surgical oncologist at Sunnybrook and co-author of the study. “Next we must ask ‘how can we improve the cancer care system to improve symptom burden for our patients?’”

Researchers found that across all types of cancers, patients reported highest anxiety in the first month after diagnosis.

“During that first month, what better supports can we put in place to help relieve that anxiety?” Dr. Coburn said.

When comparing symptom burden with demographic information by postal code, the researchers found younger patients, females, those with lower income and people living in cities had higher odds of reporting elevated symptom burden. Patients diagnosed with certain cancers – like head and neck – also reported more symptoms.

“Knowing that certain subgroups of patients are at higher risk for worse symptoms can help healthcare providers plan for targeted and tailored support for these patients,” Dr. Coburn said.