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April 2016

Missing Patients’ Symptoms in Cancer Care Delivery—The Importance of Patient-Reported Outcomes

Author Affiliations
  • 1Cancer Outcomes Research Program, Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
JAMA Oncol. 2016;2(4):433-434. doi:10.1001/jamaoncol.2015.4719

As cancer care professionals, we care deeply about our patients’ symptoms. Indeed, symptom management is a cornerstone of oncology practice. Yet, many studies demonstrate that we consistently miss up to half of our patients’ symptoms.

Several years ago, a methodologist colleague at Memorial Sloan Kettering demonstrated to me that I do no better detecting symptoms than any other oncologist, despite my belief that I am a relatively “patient-centered” clinician (he did this by analyzing research data sets that include both clinician and patient symptom reports). The implications of our missing this information are profound: undermanagement of symptoms, unnecessary suffering, avoidable emergency department visits and hospitalizations, and treatment interruptions.1-3 In clinical trials, this phenomenon can lead to underestimation of risk compared with benefit.4