Patterns of Symptom Distress in Older Women After Surgical Treatment for Breast Cancer

Amy Laufer Kenefick

ONF 2006, 33(2), 327-335. DOI: 10.1188/06.ONF.327-335

Purpose/Objectives: To describe patterns of symptom distress over time in older women receiving surgical treatment for breast cancer and to examine the relationship of selected patient and clinical characteristics to symptom distress.

Design: Secondary analysis of breast cancer data from a prospective, longitudinal study of older patients with several types of cancer.

Setting: Large mid-Atlantic teaching hospital.

Sample: 57 patients with breast cancer participated. Subjects had a mean age of 68 and were predominantly white, not Hispanic, married, Protestant, retired, and in stage I or II. A total of 55 subjects completed the study.

Methods: The Symptom Distress Scale was used. Data were collected on discharge and at three and six months postdischarge. Descriptive statistics, t test, analysis of variance, correlation coefficients, and stepwise multiple regression were analyzed.

Main Research Variables: Total symptom distress and 13 individual symptom scores.

Findings: Fatigue, frequency of pain, outlook, and insomnia consistently were most prevalent and severe. Symptoms decreased gradually. Younger, more educated, and married women experienced more distress.

Conclusions: Interactions among symptoms are complex. Later symptom distress may be predicted by early experience and demographic characteristics.

Implications for Nursing: Clinicians should inquire about symptom distress at each encounter, expect multiple symptoms, and anticipate greater symptom distress in patients who are younger, more educated, or married or living with a partner. In women with more severe, earlier symptom distress, nurses should intervene promptly. Research should determine interrelationships of symptoms and how they might be affected by contextual variables, describe critical attributes of the nursepatient interaction that might mitigate symptom distress, characterize the relationship of symptom intensity and distress, clarify the mechanism of the relationship between marital status and symptom distress, and identify the effect of symptoms, individually and collectively, on survival and quality of life.

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