One study of women with newly diagnosed breast cancer (n = 236) successfully utilized brief screening instruments such as the Distress Thermometer and the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9) to identify women requiring further assessment to detect clinically significant levels of distress and psychiatric symptoms.
In a study of 321 women with newly diagnosed stage I to stage III breast cancer, the ability of the single-item Distress Thermometer to specifically predict depression, as measured by a self-report questionnaire of the nine Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) symptoms for major depressive disorder, was investigated. Sensitivity and specificity characteristics were evaluated, and the optimal cutoff score of 7 was identified, resulting in a sensitivity of 0.81 and a specificity of 0.85 for detecting depression. Therefore, individuals scoring 7 or above should undergo a more thorough psychosocial evaluation.
A modification of the Distress Thermometer, the Impact Thermometer, to be used in combination with the Distress Thermometer, has improved specificity for the detection of adjustment disorders and/or major depression, as compared with the Distress Thermometer. The revised tool has a screening performance comparable to that of the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale and is brief, potentially making it an effective tool for routine screening in oncology settings. The Mood Evaluation Questionnaire, a cognitive-based screening tool for depression, has moderate correlation with the structured clinical interview for DSM-III-R and good acceptability in the palliative care population. With further validation, it may become a useful alternative in this population because it can be used by clinicians who are not trained in psychiatry.
It is important that screening instruments be validated in cancer populations and used in combination with structured diagnostic interviews. A pilot study of 25 patients used a simple, easily reproduced visual analog scale suggesting the benefits to a single-item approach to screening for depression. This scale consists of a 10-cm line with a sad face at one end and a happy face at the other end, on which patients make a mark to indicate their mood. Although the results do suggest that a visual analog scale may be useful as a screening tool for depression, the small patient numbers and lack of clinical interviews limit conclusions. Furthermore, although very high correlations with the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale were reported (r = 0.87), no indication of cut-offs was given. Finally, it should be emphasized that such a tool is intended to suggest the need for further professional assessment. However, if validated further, this simple approach could greatly enhance assessment and management of depression in cognitively intact advanced cancer patients.[7,34] Other brief assessment tools for depression can be used. To help patients distinguish normal anxiety reactions from depression, assessment should include discussion about common symptoms experienced by cancer patients. Depression should be reassessed over time. Because of the increased risk of adjustment disorders and major depression in cancer patients, routine screening with increased vigilance at times of increased stress (e.g., diagnosis, recurrences, progression) is recommended. General risk factors for depression are noted in the list above. Other risk factors may pertain to specific populations, for example, patients with head and neck cancer  and women at high risk for the development of breast cancer.