Distress and psychosocial risk in families with newly diagnosed pediatric brain tumors

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Hospitalization for a newly diagnosed pediatric brain tumor is an extremely stressful time for a family, but this period has not been the focus of rigorous study. The purpose of this study was to quantify distress and psychosocial risk in this population to improve psychosocial care delivery.


The authors administered the National Comprehensive Cancer Network Distress Thermometer (DT) and the Psychosocial Assessment Tool 2.0 (PAT) to primary caregivers of all children admitted to Children’s of Alabama with a new brain tumor between April 2016 and August 2017. The DT is a single-item measure of distress (scale range 0–10). The PAT (range 0–7) stratifies families by risk level: a score less than 1.0 indicates universal risk level (risk typically experienced during hospitalization); a score of 1.0–2.0 indicates targeted risk (specific psychosocial difficulties that impact medical treatment); and a score higher than 2.0 indicates clinically significant risk. Demographic and clinical information was abstracted from each child’s medical record. A correlation matrix using nonparametric statistics was created between abstracted data and the DT and PAT scores.


Forty primary caregivers were enrolled (of 49 eligible), with the patient age ranging from newborn to 17 years (mean 7.7 years). Twenty-five (63%) of the children were male, and 24 (60%) were white, non-Hispanic. Mean and median DT scores were 7.2 (SD 2.6) and 7, respectively. However, 12 (30%) rated their distress 10/10, and 85% rated distress 5 or greater. PAT scores ranged from 0.0 to 2.36 with mean and median scores of 0.89 (SD 0.50) and 0.86, respectively. PAT results for 16 (40%) families were in the targeted or clinical range, indicating psychosocial factors that have the potential to interfere with medical treatment. No clinical or demographic variable correlated significantly with the DT or PAT score.


Families of children with newly diagnosed brain tumors experience high levels of distress and psychosocial risk. This work will serve as the foundation for efforts to standardize psychosocial evaluation for newly diagnosed pediatric neurosurgical patients, and to create protocols that organize existing hospital-based psychosocial support services. These efforts have the potential to improve patient and family satisfaction as well as treatment outcomes.

ABBREVIATIONS DT = Distress Thermometer; PAT = Psychosocial Assessment Tool 2.0.

Article Information

Correspondence Brandon G. Rocque: University of Alabama at Birmingham, AL. brandon.rocque@childrensal.org.

INCLUDE WHEN CITING Published online October 12, 2018; DOI: 10.3171/2018.7.PEDS18297.

Disclosures The authors report no conflict of interest concerning the materials or methods used in this study or the findings specified in this paper.

© AANS, except where prohibited by US copyright law.




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