Supportive Care in Cancer

, Volume 22, Issue 4, pp 1089–1096 | Cite as

The persistence of symptom burden: symptom experience and quality of life of cancer patients across one year

  • Teresa L. DeshieldsEmail author
  • Patricia Potter
  • Sarah Olsen
  • Jingxia Liu
Original Article



The purpose of this longitudinal study was to track the symptom experience in a sample of cancer patients, determine the persistence of cancer symptoms and symptom burden, and examine the relationship between symptoms and QOL over time.


Five hundred forty-two patients provided longitudinal data, completing surveys over a 12-month period. Patients had breast, colorectal, gynecologic, lung, or prostate cancer with stage 1, 2, or 3 disease. Surveys included the Memorial Symptom Assessment Scale and the Functional Assessment of Cancer Therapy-General Scale and were administered every 3 months. Demographic and clinical information and comorbidities were collected from the tumor registry.


The number and type of symptoms experienced by patients varied by cancer type, but about 90 % of patients reported one or more symptoms—with prostate cancer patients reporting fewer symptoms and colorectal patients, more symptoms. Prostate patients also had the lowest symptom burden at every time point. Overall, symptom burden decreased over time, as did the Physical subscale for the MSAS. Quality of life was stable over time, except for physical well-being, which improved. Quality of life was negatively correlated with symptom burden at every time point.


The differences in symptom experience by cancer type suggest that assessment and management of symptoms must be individually tailored or at least adjusted by cancer type. While symptom burden decreased over time, residual symptom burden was still noteworthy. As quality of life was persistently negatively correlated with symptom burden, the results suggest the need for comprehensive symptom assessment and management.


Oncology Symptoms Quality of life Symptom persistence 



This research project was funded by Barnes-Jewish Hospital which employs Dr. Deshields, Dr. Potter, and Ms. Olsen. The authors acknowledge the support of the Biostatistics Core of the Siteman Cancer Center, which is funded by the NCI Cancer Center Support Grant P30 CA091842. The authors have full control of all primary data and agree to allow the journal to review the data if requested.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Teresa L. Deshields
    • 1
    Email author
  • Patricia Potter
    • 2
  • Sarah Olsen
    • 2
  • Jingxia Liu
    • 3
  1. 1.Siteman Cancer CenterBarnes-Jewish HospitalSt. LouisUSA
  2. 2.Barnes-Jewish HospitalSt. LouisUSA
  3. 3.Division of BiostatisticsWashington University School of MedicineWashingtonUSA

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