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Symptom Distress in Patients With Hepatocellular Carcinoma Toward the End of Life

Lissi Hansen
Nathan F. Dieckmann
Kenneth J. Kolbeck
Willscott E. Naugler
Michael F. Chang
ONF 2017, 44(6), 665-673 DOI: 10.1188/17.ONF.665-673

Purpose/Objectives: To describe the presence, frequency, severity, and distress of symptoms in outpatients with advanced hepatocellular carcinoma toward the end of life, and the variability in psychological and physical symptom distress between and within patients over time.

Design: A prospective, longitudinal, descriptive design.

Setting: Outpatient clinics at two healthcare institutions.

Sample: 18 patients (15 men and 3 women) with hepatocellular carcinoma and a mean age of 63.3 years (range = 54–81 years).

Methods: Data were collected monthly for six months. Patients completed the Memorial Symptom Assessment Scale, which reports a total score, and three subscales that provide global distress, psychological distress, and physical distress scores.

Main Research Variables: Global, psychological, and physical distress.

Findings: Patients reported lack of energy and pain as the most frequent and distressing symptoms. Problems with sexual interest or activity was the fourth most present symptom after drowsiness. Global Distress Index mean scores had notable variability between and within patients over time. During data collection, six patients died. None were referred to palliative care.

Conclusions: Gaining knowledge about symptom distress and prevalent symptoms experienced by patients with advanced hepatocellular carcinoma is critical for designing symptom management strategies that are comprehensive and tailored to patients to optimize their quality of life as they approach death.

Implications for Nursing: Nurses play a vital role in advocating for, initiating, and providing comprehensive holistic care based on individual patient needs by facilitating discussions about apparent and less apparent distressing symptoms, including those related to sexuality.

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