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A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of the Distress Thermometer for Screening Distress in Asian Patients with Cancer

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The distress thermometer (DT) is a commonly used tool for screening distress in Asian patients with cancer. However, the optimal cut-off score and discriminative accuracy remain unclear. Hence, this meta-analysis aimed to examine its diagnostic value and optimal cut-off score in Asia. A systematic search was conducted in the PubMed, EMBASE and Cochrane Library databases. The pooled sensitivity, specificity, positive and negative predictive values, and diagnostic odds ratio were calculated. The area under the curve (AUC) was computed from the summary receiver-operating characteristic (SROC) curve. All analyses were performed using STATA 12.0 software. Finally, 10 studies describing 2851 patients were included. After pooling all the results from the 10 studies, the optimal DT cut-off score was 4 with a pooled sensitivity of 0.78 (95% confidence intervals (CI) 0.68–0.86), specificity of 0.73 (95% CI 0.65–0.80) and AUC of 0.82 (95% CI 0.78–0.85). When the DT was compared to the hospital anxiety and depression scale-total (HADS-T), the cut-off score of 4 showed the best balance between the pooled sensitivity (0.81, 95% CI 0.69–0.89) and specificity (0.74, 95% CI 0.59–0.84), and the AUC was 0.84 (95% CI 0.81–0.87). In conclusion, the DT with a cut-off score of 4 was an effective screening tool in Asian patients with cancer.

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The authors would like to thank the previous researchers and scientists for their studies.


This research did not receive any specific grant from funding agencies.

Author information

YSY, SHH and ST conceptualized and designed the study; SHH and ST reviewed all articles and extracted the data; and SHH, WBY and FXF analyzed and interpreted the data. SHH drafted the initial manuscript, other authors reviewed and corrected the manuscript. All authors have approved the final manuscript for submission.

Correspondence to Shiying Yu.

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Huihui Sun, Sudip Thapa, Bangyan Wang, Xiaofen Fu, and Shiying Yu declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

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Sun, H., Thapa, S., Wang, B. et al. A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of the Distress Thermometer for Screening Distress in Asian Patients with Cancer. J Clin Psychol Med Settings (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10880-020-09705-9

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  • Meta-analysis
  • Distress
  • Distress thermometer
  • Cancer patients