Functional impairments as symptoms in the symptom cluster analysis of patients newly diagnosed with advanced cancer

Samah J. Fodeh, Mark Lazenby, Mei Bai, Elizabeth Ercolano, Terrence Murphy, Ruth McCorkle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Context: Symptoms and subsequent functional impairment have been associated with the biological processes of disease, including the interaction between disease and treatment in a measurement model of symptoms. However, hitherto cluster analysis has primarily focused on symptoms. Objectives: This study among patients within 100 days of diagnosis with advanced cancer explored whether self-reported physical symptoms and functional impairments formed clusters at the time of diagnosis. Methods: We applied cluster analysis to self-reported symptoms and activities of daily living of 111 patients newly diagnosed with advanced gastrointestinal (GI), gynecological, head and neck, and lung cancers. Based on content expert evaluations, the best techniques and variables were identified, yielding the best solution. Results: The best cluster solution used a K-means algorithm and cosine similarity and yielded five clusters of physical as well as emotional symptoms and functional impairments. Cancer site formed the predominant organizing principle of composition for each cluster. The top five symptoms and functional impairments in each cluster were Cluster 1 (GI): outlook, insomnia, appearance, concentration, and eating/feeding; Cluster 2 (GI): appetite, bowel, insomnia, eating/feeding, and appearance; Cluster 3 (gynecological): nausea, insomnia, eating/feeding, concentration, and pain; Cluster 4 (head and neck): dressing, eating/feeding, bathing, toileting, and walking; and Cluster 5 (lung): cough, walking, eating/feeding, breathing, and insomnia. Conclusion: Functional impairments in patients newly diagnosed with late-stage cancers behave as symptoms during the diagnostic phase. Health care providers need to expand their assessments to include both symptoms and functional impairments. Early recognition of functional changes may accelerate diagnosis at an earlier cancer stage.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)500-510
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Pain and Symptom Management
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Nursing
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


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