Distress Levels in Neuro-Oncology Patients Linked to Communication Needs

Distress assessment in patients treated for brain tumor appeared to aid oncology physicians and nurses in improving communication with patients, according to the findings of a recent pilot study. The study’s results were reported in the Journal of the Advanced Practitioner in Oncology.

In this study, patients with primary or secondary brain tumors were asked to rate their distress using the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) Distress Thermometer (DT). They were also given a questionnaire regarding their expectations for communication with the physician treating them. This questionnaire focused on concepts including attention/caring and awareness of disease and prognosis. Patients also rated the importance of the items on the questionnaire. Responses were evaluated with respect to the level of patient distress. A goal was to identify the relationship between distress and patient needs during communication between the physician and the patient.

There were 81 patients included in the analysis who had completed both the DT and the questionnaire on expectations for communication. Slightly more than half (51.8%) of the population was aged 51 to 70 years, with some patients being younger (34.6%) or older (13.6%). Most (72.8%) patients had a glioma diagnosis. Primary therapy was ongoing in 30.9% of the overall population, and 21.0% of patients were receiving treatment for a recurrence.

Across the population, the mean score for distress was 4.88 (SD, 2.64), with scores of 5 or higher reflecting high distress. More than half of the patient population (57%; 46 patients) had a high score for distress (score of 5 or higher on a 10-point scale).

Regarding patient expectations for physician-patient communication, all of the presented items were considered by most patients to be important or very important. Comparisons of patients with high vs low distress scores revealed significantly higher importance ratings for the majority of items in patients with high distress. Additionally, a significant correlation appeared between mean importance ratings and distress scores (P <.001). Patients with high and low distress rated themselves similarly in responses to questions regarding their decision-making capacity.

The study investigators noted that while the study focused on physician-patient communication, the topic of the study is applicable to advanced practitioners, nursing staff, care workers, and other members of the interdisciplinary care team.

“In this cohort of neuro-oncology patients, increased distress levels corresponded to higher needs of both attention/caring and medical information about the disease, and its assessment may help inform successful communication with patients,” the study investigators concluded in their report.


Roos C, Weller J, Landwehr C, et al. Distress in neuro-oncology patients and its implications for communication. J Adv Pract Oncol. 2023;14(4):292–299. doi:10.6004/jadpro.2023.14.4.3

This article originally appeared on Oncology Nurse Advisor