BACKGROUND: The assessment of mood and anxiety disorders secondary to cancer and its consequences (e.g. risk of suicide, lower pain threshold, reduced compliance to treatment) has been the object of intense research. PUROPOSE: The aim of this study was to examine the accuracy of a short screening instrument (Distress Thermometer) (DT) in detecting mood disorders in Italian cancer patients. METHODS: The sample consisted of 109 cancer outpatients who were administered the ICD-10 psychiatric interview (CIDI), the DT and the Hospital Anxiety Depression Scale (HADS). RESULTS: Forty-four patients (40.4%) met the criteria for an ICD-10 diagnosis (Adjustment Disorders:24.8%; Affective Disorders:14.85%; Anxiety Disorders:2.7%). ICD-10 cases were identified by a score of 4 on the DT (sensitivity = 79.5%; specificity = 75.4%) and a score of 11 on the HADS total (sensitivity = 86%; specificity =81.5%). When analyzing the subgroup of patients with major mood disorders (F32, F34), a score of 5 on the DT and 15 on the HADS total maximized sensitivity (DT 78.6%; HADS 85%) and specificity (DT 83.1%); HADS 96%). CONCLUSIONS: The DT showed to be a valid instrument in assessing both general morbidity and the single sub-groups of mood disorders, although the HADS outperformed DT in sensitivity, specificity and correct classification rate. The results confirm the feasibility of simple instruments in order to facilitate the recognition of mood and anxiety disorders among cancer patients. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Project funded by the European Commission Health and Consumer Protection – Commission on Cancer agreement University of Ferrara, Italy SI2.307317.2000CVG2-026.
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