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23-12-2015 | Head and neck cancers | Article

Screening for psychological distress in follow-up care to identify head and neck cancer patients with untreated distress

Supportive Care in Cancer

Authors: Anne-Marie H. Krebber, Femke Jansen, Pim Cuijpers, C. René Leemans, Irma M. Verdonck-de Leeuw

Publisher: Springer Berlin Heidelberg



The purpose of the study is to investigate screening in follow-up care to identify head and neck cancer (HNC) patients with untreated psychological distress.


From November 2009 until December 2012, we investigated the use of OncoQuest (a touch screen computer system to monitor psychological distress (Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS)) and quality of life (HRQOL; EORTC QLQ-C30 and H&N35 module) in routine follow-up care. Patients who screened positive for psychological distress (HADS-T >14, HADS-A >7, or HADS-D >7) were asked whether they received psychological or psychiatric treatment.


During the study period of 37 months, OncoQuest was used by 720 individual HNC patients, of whom 714 had complete HADS data. Psychological distress was present in 206 patients (29 %). Of those patients who fulfilled in- and exclusion criteria (n = 137), 25 received psychological treatment (18 %). Receipt of psychological treatment was significantly related to a higher score on the HADS total scale (19.6 vs. 16.9; p = 0.019), a lower (worse) score on the EORTC QLQ-C30 scale emotional functioning (46.0 vs. 58.6; p = 0.023), a higher (worse) score on fatigue (58.2 vs. 46.4; p = 0.032), problems with sexuality (44.1 vs. 34.4; p = 0.043), oral pain (43.8 vs. 28.8; p = 0.011) and speech problems (37.0 vs. 25.3; p = 0.042).


Screening for psychological distress via OncoQuest is beneficial because 82 % of HNC patients identified with an increased level of distress who do not yet receive mental treatment were identified. Patients who did receive treatment reported more distress and worse quality of life, which may be explained because patients with more severe problems maybe more inclined to seek help or might be detected easier by caregivers and referred to supportive care more often.

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