Supportive Care in Cancer

, Volume 28, Issue 2, pp 617–624 | Cite as

Ethical considerations in screening head and neck cancer patients for psychosocial distress

  • Julie M. DeleemansEmail author
  • Kerry Mothersill
  • Barry D. Bultz
  • Fiona Schulte
Original Article



Head and neck cancer (HNC) patients and survivors are a particularly vulnerable group with disproportionately high levels of psychosocial distress. Untreated psychosocial distress among HNC patients has consistently been associated with poorer health and psychosocial outcomes. Screening for distress (SFD) allows health care providers to identify and monitor patient’s distress, and when needed, to subsequently provide appropriate psychosocial supports that aim to reduce suffering and improve patients’ overall well-being. However, despite mounting evidence for the benefits of SFD some oncology centers continue to neglect SFD in HNC patients and survivors, thereby depriving these patients of the opportunity to have their unmet psychosocial needs appropriately addressed. The present paper reviews SFD literature and explores ethical considerations in screening HNC patients and for distress.


Screening HNC patients for distress and facilitating the alleviation of suffering are important steps in providing ethical care. HNC oncology administrators, surgical departments, and clinicians are urged to consider the implementation of SFD for HNC patients and to take the necessary steps in implementing SFD practices and psychosocial care.


Head Neck Psychosocial Distress Ethic 


Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Julie M. Deleemans
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    Email author
  • Kerry Mothersill
    • 4
  • Barry D. Bultz
    • 2
    • 5
  • Fiona Schulte
    • 1
    • 2
    • 4
  1. 1.Division of Medical Science, Cumming School of MedicineUniversity of CalgaryCalgaryCanada
  2. 2.Division of Psychosocial Oncology, Department of Oncology, Cumming School of MedicineUniversity of CalgaryCalgaryCanada
  3. 3.Psychosocial Oncology DepartmentHoly Cross HospitalCalgaryCanada
  4. 4.Department of Psychology, Faculty of ArtsUniversity of CalgaryCalgaryCanada
  5. 5.Department of Psychiatry, Cumming School of MedicineUniversity of CalgaryCalgaryCanada

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