Cancer impacts on patients’ psychological, social and physical functioning, putting them at risk of anxiety and depression.1 Routine screening for psychological distress, anxiety and depression in a clinical setting is, therefore, an important component of best-practice cancer care.1,2

Multiple validated screening for distress tools are used in clinical settings. These include the Distress Thermometer and the Edmonton Symptom Assessment System (see links to other content below).


Data availability

Consultations with stakeholders undertaken by Cancer Australia indicate that routine screening for distress among cancer patients occurs in some health services, however it is not being conducted systematically in Australia. There is, therefore, a lack of national data for this indicator at present.


Information about the measure(s):

The recommended measures for monitoring screening for distress at the national level are:

a: Proportion of patients receiving psychosocial screening with validated tools, (for example the Edmonton Symptom Assessment System or Distress Thermometer).

b: Proportion of cancer treatment units with documented referral pathway to respond to a patient who has been identified as experiencing distress within a new presentation.

c: Proportion of cancer treatment units with training available for staff involved in psychosocial screening and responding to patients identified as ’distressed’.


Links to other content:

Cancer Australia – Psychosocial care (guidelines, tools and educational resources)

Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care (ACSQHC) – Patient Reported Outcome Measures (overview and tools)

Canadian Partnership Against Cancer – Screening for Distress (implementation overview and data)

Examples of validated tools:

Distress Thermometer

Edmonton Symptom Assessment System

ACSQHC - Validated PROMs

Support Care Needs Assessment Tool for Indigenous People (SCNAT-IP)



1. National Comprehensive Cancer Network 2014. Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology: Distress management.

2. National Breast Cancer Centre and National Cancer Control Initiative. 2003. Clinical practice guidelines for the psychosocial care of adults with cancer. National Breast Cancer Centre, Camperdown, NSW.