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Symptom Experience in Older Adults Undergoing Treatment for Cancer

Victoria Wochna Loerzel

older adults, cancer, adverse effects, mental health, physical functioning
ONF 2015, 42(3), E269-E278. DOI: 10.1188/15.ONF.E269-E278

Purpose/Objectives: To explore the symptom experience of older adults receiving cancer chemotherapy in an outpatient treatment setting.

Design: Exploratory, descriptive, cross-sectional study.

Setting: A community cancer center in the southeastern United States.

Sample: 100 adults aged 65 years or older undergoing treatment for cancer.

Methods: Data were collected from participants at a chemotherapy treatment visit using structured questionnaires. Descriptive statistics were used to examine data. T tests and analysis of variance were used to compare symptoms among groups, and Pearson correlations were used to examine relationships among variables.

Main Research Variables: Cancer treatment–related symptoms, comorbid illnesses, mental health function, and physical function.

Findings: Older adults experience a high number of cancer treatment–related symptoms with moderate severity. The most common symptoms included fatigue, bowel disturbances, lack of appetite, hair loss, and drowsiness. Numbness and tingling were the most severe symptoms experienced. The presence of comorbid illness and poor mental functioning affects the number of symptoms experienced.

Conclusions: Opportunities exist for clinicians to take steps to assess and manage symptoms common to older adults before serious complications and negative outcomes occur. Future research is needed.

Implications for Nursing: Nurses should consider comorbidities and poor mental functioning in older adults when assessing treatment-related symptoms. Being proactive and assessing and managing symptoms early during treatment may improve outcomes for older patients.

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