Cancer Council calls on clinicians to screen for distress

Do your patients require additional cancer support or information? Referrals and CCQ resources available.

Cancer Council has called for routine distress screening of cancer patients at point of diagnosis, following research findings that screening can prevent depression and improve quality of life.

In one of the first large scale studies of its kind internationally, researchers used a ‘Distress Thermometer’ to assess the psychological and emotional state of Queensland men affected by prostate cancer.

The thermometer is a cost-effective psychological test for measuring patients’ distress and determining whether a patient would benefit from referral to specialised supportive care services.

Cancer Council Queensland CEO Professor Jeff Dunn AO said enhanced clinical care guidelines were needed to promote the physical and mental health of cancer patients.

“A diagnosis of cancer can be a distressing life event for the patient, affecting emotions and behaviours as well as the patient’s physical health,” Prof Dunn said.

“Patient distress is a cause for serious concern and can lead to non-compliance with treatment, sub-optimal quality of life, co-morbidities, and poor prognosis.

“With at least one in three patients experiencing clinically significant psychological distress, it’s critical that we address distress by screening all cancer patients at point of diagnosis.”

Foundation Professor of Allied Health Research at Griffith University’s Menzies Health Institute and a lead author on the study, Professor Suzanne Chambers, said the thermometer was also effective in recognising distress many years after a cancer diagnosis.

“The Distress Thermometer is highly sensitive at detecting cancer-related distress for up to three years after diagnosis,” Prof Chambers said.

“This study is the first in Queensland to show that using the Distress Thermometer with prostate cancer patients is particularly effective at detecting emotional and psychological distress so that patients can be referred to specialised support.

“This tool is a useful addition to help identify patients suffering from distress, and to refer those who need intervention beyond the standard support provided.

“It’s important that all cancer patients are referred to services that match their concerns and level of need – from telephone-based counselling to peer support, or further clinical help.”

Around half of all men diagnosed with prostate cancer report chronic unmet supportive care needs related to their diagnosis, often linked to side-effects of treatment such as loss of libido.

Cancer Council Queensland CEO Professor Jeff Dunn urged those affected to reach out for support.

“Routine screening for distress in cancer patients will lead to better, in-depth psychological care delivered at the right time and in the right way,” Prof Dunn said.

“Once distress is identified, patients should be referred to Cancer Council’s 13 11 20 for information and specialised support.

“Patients and their loved ones can also get referrals to our Cancer Counselling Service from their doctor or via 13 11 20.”

Around 4000 Queensland men are diagnosed with prostate cancer each year, and about 640 men die from the disease.

Cancer Council’s 13 11 20 is a toll-free landline call from anywhere in Queensland and offers information, resources and connection to support programs and advocacy services for those affected by cancer.

More information about Cancer Council Queensland is available via Cancer Council’s 13 11 20 or


For more information or interviews, please contact:
Katie Clift,
Executive Manager,
Media and Spokesperson,
Cancer Council Queensland
Phone: (07) 3634 5372
Mobile: 0409 001 171