Physical and psychosocial support requirements of 1,500 patients starting radiotherapy.

Research paper by K K Kirchheiner, A A Czajka, E E Ponocny-Seliger, C C Lütgendorf-Caucig, M P MP Schmid, E E Komarek, R R Pötter, W W Dörr

Indexed on: 29 Mar '13Published on: 29 Mar '13Published in: Strahlentherapie und Onkologie


The need for psychosocial support in cancer patients is estimated in the literature at 14-50 %. At the Department of Radiation Oncology, Medical University of Vienna, approximately 3,000 patients are seen annually. Due to limited staff resources, highly distressed patients need to be selected for focused support. A multidisciplinary screening questionnaire covering physical, social and psychological problems and needs was successfully implemented in clinical routine. We present the results of a representative sample of 1,500 heterogeneous cancer patients before beginning radiotherapy.The prevalence rates of physical, social and psychological problems and needs were evaluated. Independent risk factors for critical psychological distress were analyzed in a multivariate logistic regression model, in order to identify vulnerable subgroups for focused psychosocial support.Critical psychological distress was found in 22 % of the overall cohort, of whom only 26 % reported a need for psychological information. Clinically relevant pain was suffered by 31 %. Patients' most frequent complaints were weakness, sleeping difficulties and exhaustion. Consequently, 40 % were impaired in activities and 35 % reported a requirement for support in daily life. A need for further information was expressed by 37 % of patients. Significant risk factors for critical psychological distress included pain, functional status, support requirements and patient-reported symptoms. Differences in tumor type, metastases and sociodemographic variables had no impact on critical psychological distress.Approximately one third of all patients beginning radiotherapy have physical, social and psychological problems and should receive focused psychosocial support. Multivariate analysis reveals that patients with impaired "physical integrity" are at a significantly higher risk of experiencing critical psychological distress.