Distress may not be a significant barrier that prevents adult patients from undergoing cancer screening tests, according to a study published in Cancer.

Cancer screening is a highly effective way to detect early malignancies, and is one of the best methods to reduce cancer-related mortality and improve quality of life. Current recommendations acknowledge the potential distress associated with screenings, but previous studies have only investigated the distress caused by false-positive results and recommendations for follow-up screenings.

For this systematic review, researchers identified 22 studies that screened for breast, colorectal, prostate, lung, and cervical cancers. Eligible studies must have quantitatively measured psychological distress 2 weeks prior or 1 month after screenings to evaluate distress directly related to the screening itself.

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The distress construct most commonly associated with cancer screening was anxiety; others included worry, subjective stress, and fear of cancer screening/cancer diagnosis. The State Trait Anxiety Inventory was utilized to measure anxiety.

Results of the review revealed that with the exception of colorectal cancer screening, distress levels were low during cancer screenings, and may not be a barrier that prevents screening.

The authors conclude by saying “further research using standardized measures (and with the explicit intent to examine distress at the time of cancer screening compared with participants who do not choose to undergo screening) is needed to identify the causes and levels of distress across cancer screenings.”


1. Chad-Friedman E, Coleman S, Traeger LN, et al. Psychological distress associated with cancer screening: a systematic review [published online August 22, 2017]. Cancer. doi: 10.1002/cncr.30904