Differences in the symptom experience of older oncology outpatients

Christine Ritchie, Laura B. Dunn, Steven M. Paul, Bruce A. Cooper, Helen Skerman, John D. Merriman, Bradley Aouizerat, Kimberly Alexander, Patsy Yates, Janine Cataldo, Christine Miaskowski

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Context The relatively low number of older patients in cancer trials limits knowledge of how older adults experience symptoms associated with cancer and its treatment. Objectives This study evaluated for differences in the symptom experience across four older age groups (60-64, 65-69, 70-74, 75 years). Methods Demographic, clinical, and symptom data from 330 patients aged >60 years who participated in one Australian and two U.S. studies were evaluated. The Memorial Symptom Assessment Scale was used to evaluate the occurrence, severity, frequency, and distress of 32 symptoms commonly associated with cancer and its treatment. Results On average, regardless of the age group, patients reported 10 concurrent symptoms. The most prevalent symptoms were physical in nature. Worrying was the most common psychological symptom. For 28 (87.5%) of the 32 Memorial Symptom Assessment Scale symptoms, no age-related differences were found in symptom occurrence rates. For symptom severity ratings, an age-related trend was found for difficulty swallowing. As age increased, severity of difficulty swallowing decreased. For symptom frequency, age-related trends were found for feeling irritable and diarrhea, with both decreasing in frequency as age increased. For symptom distress, age-related trends were found for lack of energy, shortness of breath, feeling bloated, and difficulty swallowing. As age increased, these symptoms received lower average distress ratings. Conclusion Additional research is warranted to examine how age differences in symptom experience are influenced by treatment differences, aging-related changes in biological or psychological processes, or age-related response shift.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)697-709
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Pain and Symptom Management
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2014


  • Geriatric oncology
  • cancer
  • multiple concurrent symptoms
  • symptom assessment
  • symptom distress
  • symptoms

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Nursing
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


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