Factors contributing to emotional distress during cancer chemotherapy

David R. Nerenz, Howard Leventhal, Richard R. Love

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

143 Scopus citations


Recent studies have demonstrated that patients receiving cancer chemotherapy are more likely to have a successful treatment outcome if they receive optimal doses of drugs continually. The current study was designed as a first step toward discovering factors that are associated with emotional distress during treatment and subsequent decisions by patients to delay, reduce, or terminate treatment. Interviews were conducted with 61 patients receiving chemotherapy for malignant lymphoma. Patients reported on side effects of treatment and their efforts to control them, their knowledge and beliefs about their illness, their strategies for monitoring the effectiveness of treatment, and the extent to which they had been prepared for the experiences of chemotherapy. Ratings of emotional distress were obtained on an 11‐point self‐report scale, and information about treatment schedules was obtained from medical records. The number of side effects experienced, but not the duration or severity, was positively correlated with distress. Vague, diffuse side effects such as tiredness and pain were more likely to be associated with distress than were acute, specific side effects such as nausea and vomiting. Patients who reported either unsuccessful attempts to cope with side effects or no attempts at all had greater distress than those who were coping successfully. Patients who developed conditioned nausea during treatment reported higher distress than those who did not.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1020-1027
Number of pages8
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jan 1 1982

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research

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