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Body image is a vital and complex issue in cancer patients, but not well recognized. In the ambulatory psychiatric-oncology clinic, we assessed what portion of cancer patients endorsed appearance problems and if they differed in terms of depression, anxiety, or distress scores when compared with those who did not endorse appearance problems.
All adult patients with active cancer diagnosis seen in the outpatient psychiatry oncology clinic (June 2014–January 2016) who provided informed consent were included (N = 1,939) in the cross-sectional study design. “Appearance problems” were assessed as a categorical, binomial variable (yes/no) using the National Comprehensive Cancer Network Distress Thermometer checklist. Other assessments included the Patient Health Questionnaire-9, Patient Health Questionnaire-2, Generalized Anxiety Disorder-7, Distress Thermometer, and Edmonton Symptom Assessment Scale.
The overall prevalence rate of individuals who endorsed appearance problems was approximately 36%; they were more likely to be younger, female, Black or Hispanic, and not in a committed relationship (all results for demographic variables were statistically significant; all p < .001). Importantly, those patients who endorsed appearance problems exhibited higher scores for depression (p < .0001), anxiety (p < .0001), and distress (p < .0001), and these differences were of medium effect size (Cohen's d = 0.5−0.6).
Significance of results
The current results underscore the need to identify patients with body image problems early given that they are likely to exhibit higher magnitude of anxiety, depression and distress symptoms while undergoing cancer care. The results highlight the importance of body image issues and the need to evaluate them in cancer patients.
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