Understanding Symptom Burden in Patients With Advanced Cancer Living in Rural Areas

Stephanie Gilbertson-White

Yelena Perkhounkova

Seyedehtanaz Saeidzadeh

Maria Hein

Rachel Dahl

Andrean Simons-Burnett

symptom burden, rural, advanced cancer, isolation, symptom management
ONF 2019, 46(4), 428-441. DOI: 10.1188/19.ONF.428-441

Objectives: To evaluate the feasibility of using a biobehavioral approach to examine symptom burden in rural residents with advanced cancer.

Sample & Setting: 21 patients with advanced lung, colorectal, or pancreatic cancer were enrolled at the University of Iowa in Iowa City.

Methods & Variables: Using Cleeland’s cytokine-immunologic model of symptom expression, symptom burden (i.e., severity, count, and interference) and inflammatory cytokines were measured for 24 weeks. Potential predictors included demographics, clinical characteristics, optimism, social support, and cancer-related stress. Descriptive statistics, Wilcoxon rank-sum, and Fisher’s exact test were used for analysis.

Results: Recruitment and retention rates were similar for rural and nonrural patients. Demographics, optimism, and social support were no different between groups. The cancer-related stress total score for rural patients was nearly half of the score of nonrural patients, with rural patients reporting significantly less avoidance. Symptom severity for the five worst symptoms remained moderate during the 24 weeks, whereas nonrural residents reported steady declines in severity of their five worst symptoms. Significant differences in inflammatory cytokines between groups were only found at one time point.

Implications for Nursing: Rural residents who seek care at a cancer center may be clinically and demographically more similar to their nonrural counterparts than to rural residents seeking local care.

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