Social Determinants of Health and Symptom Burden During Cancer Treatment

Terry A. Badger, Chris Segrin, Tracy E. Crane, Pavani Chalasani, Waqas Arslan, Mary Hadeed, Alla Sikorskii

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Background Cancer survivors (defined as individuals from diagnosis to the end of life) in treatment experience multiple physical and psychological symptoms (e.g., fatigue, pain, depression, anxiety, disturbed sleep) that influence their well-being and treatment outcomes. Underrepresented cancer survivors may disproportionately experience greater symptom burden (number of symptoms, symptom severity, depression, anxiety). Objectives The aim of this study was to examine the relationships of social determinants of health, including age, ethnicity, education, income and whether income meets the survivor's needs, neighborhood (rural vs. urban), access to healthcare (e.g., insurance), and social isolation, with symptom burden in cancer survivors. Methods This secondary analysis included baseline data from 400 cancer survivors of solid tumor cancers undergoing chemotherapy or targeted therapy who participated in a larger randomized trial of symptom management interventions. Symptom burden was measured by the Center for Epidemiological Studies-Depression scale for depression and Patient-Reported Outcomes Measurement Information System scores for anxiety and social isolation, summed severity index of 16 symptoms from the General Symptom Distress Scale, and the total number of symptoms. Self-reported comorbid conditions were measured using the Bayliss tool. General linear models were used to relate symptom measures (one at a time) to age, number of comorbid conditions, level of education, marital status, income meeting needs, and size of metropolitan neighborhood. Additional covariates included site of cancer, its treatment, and whether the cancer was metastatic. Results Non-Hispanic White survivors (n = 191) were older and had more comorbid conditions, a higher proportion of metastatic cancers, and higher levels of education and income compared with Hispanic survivors (n = 168) and non-Hispanic survivors of other races (n = 41). Compared with the other two groups, Hispanic survivors had the lowest rate of health insurance availability, and non-Hispanic survivors of other races had the lowest social isolation. Age, number of comorbid conditions, and social isolation were significantly associated with number of symptoms, symptom severity, and depression. Age and social isolation were associated with anxiety. In addition, the symptom severity of non-Hispanic White survivors was lower than that of Hispanic survivors and non-Hispanic survivors of other races. Discussion These findings highlight the health disparities in symptom burden experienced among cancer survivors when considering their social determinants of health. Assessing these may help clinicians address health disparities in cancer care.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)103-113
Number of pages11
JournalNursing research
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 1 2023


  • cancer
  • social determinants of health
  • survivors
  • symptoms

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Nursing


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