Supportive Care in Cancer

, Volume 25, Issue 4, pp 1103–1109 | Cite as

Comparing the symptom experience of cancer patients and non-cancer patients

  • Teresa L. DeshieldsEmail author
  • Valentina Penalba
  • Jingxa Liu
  • James Avery
Original Article



Symptom burden is an established concept in oncology encompassing the presence and severity of symptoms experienced by cancer patients. Few studies have examined differences in symptom burden between cancer patients and non-cancer patients. This study seeks to examine the differences in symptom burden between cancer patients (CP) and non-cancer patients (NCP) in order to better understand symptom burden in both populations.


Two groups of patients completed the Memorial Symptom Assessment Scale: 301 patients from a general medical clinic and 558 cancer patients from a cancer tumor registry. Participants provided demographic information—age, race/ethnicity, and sex and completed the Memorial Symptom Assessment Scale. Medical comorbidity was also measured.


Most symptoms were more common in CP, except for pain, which was more prevalent in the NCP (45% of CP vs. 54% of NCP, p < .05). There was no difference in prevalence for the following symptoms: dry mouth, mouth sores, feeling nervous, worry, cough, and dizziness. The CP had greater mean MSAS Total scores (0.53 vs. 0.43, p < .01), number of symptoms (9.11 vs. 6.13, p < .01), and psychological subscale scores (0.77 vs. 0.64, p < .05). There was no difference by group in the physical nor the GDI subscale scores.


The results of this study support the perception that cancer patients have greater symptom burden. There were some unexpected results, particularly in terms of pain, which was more common in NCP and other symptoms that were experienced equally in both patient populations.


Memorial symptom assessment scale Symptom prevalence Pain Cancer Non-cancer patients 



The authors wish to thank Cara Jacobsen and Nebu Kolenchery for their contributions to this project and Dr. Raymond Tait for his editorial assistance with the manuscript. There was no support from any organization for the submitted work; no financial relationships with any organizations that might have an interest in the submitted work in the previous 3 years; and no other relationships or activities that could appear to have influenced the submitted work.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Teresa L. Deshields
    • 1
    Email author
  • Valentina Penalba
    • 1
  • Jingxa Liu
    • 2
  • James Avery
    • 3
  1. 1.Siteman Cancer, Barnes-Jewish HospitalWashington University School of MedicineSt. LouisUSA
  2. 2.Division of Public Health Sciences, Department of SurgeryWashington University School of MedicineSaint LouisUSA
  3. 3.Department of MedicineWashington University School of MedicineSaint LouisUSA

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