Alternative analytical methods for the identification of cancer-related symptom clusters

Skerman, Helen Mary (2010) Alternative analytical methods for the identification of cancer-related symptom clusters. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


Advances in symptom management strategies through a better understanding of cancer symptom clusters depend on the identification of symptom clusters that are valid and reliable. The purpose of this exploratory research was to investigate alternative analytical approaches to identify symptom clusters for patients with cancer, using readily accessible statistical methods, and to justify which methods of identification may be appropriate for this context. Three studies were undertaken: (1) a systematic review of the literature, to identify analytical methods commonly used for symptom cluster identification for cancer patients; (2) a secondary data analysis to identify symptom clusters and compare alternative methods, as a guide to best practice approaches in cross-sectional studies; and (3) a secondary data analysis to investigate the stability of symptom clusters over time. The systematic literature review identified, in 10 years prior to March 2007, 13 cross-sectional studies implementing multivariate methods to identify cancer related symptom clusters. The methods commonly used to group symptoms were exploratory factor analysis, hierarchical cluster analysis and principal components analysis. Common factor analysis methods were recommended as the best practice cross-sectional methods for cancer symptom cluster identification. A comparison of alternative common factor analysis methods was conducted, in a secondary analysis of a sample of 219 ambulatory cancer patients with mixed diagnoses, assessed within one month of commencing chemotherapy treatment. Principal axis factoring, unweighted least squares and image factor analysis identified five consistent symptom clusters, based on patient self-reported distress ratings of 42 physical symptoms. Extraction of an additional cluster was necessary when using alpha factor analysis to determine clinically relevant symptom clusters. The recommended approaches for symptom cluster identification using nonmultivariate normal data were: principal axis factoring or unweighted least squares for factor extraction, followed by oblique rotation; and use of the scree plot and Minimum Average Partial procedure to determine the number of factors. In contrast to other studies which typically interpret pattern coefficients alone, in these studies symptom clusters were determined on the basis of structure coefficients. This approach was adopted for the stability of the results as structure coefficients are correlations between factors and symptoms unaffected by the correlations between factors. Symptoms could be associated with multiple clusters as a foundation for investigating potential interventions. The stability of these five symptom clusters was investigated in separate common factor analyses, 6 and 12 months after chemotherapy commenced. Five qualitatively consistent symptom clusters were identified over time (Musculoskeletal-discomforts/lethargy, Oral-discomforts, Gastrointestinaldiscomforts, Vasomotor-symptoms, Gastrointestinal-toxicities), but at 12 months two additional clusters were determined (Lethargy and Gastrointestinal/digestive symptoms). Future studies should include physical, psychological, and cognitive symptoms. Further investigation of the identified symptom clusters is required for validation, to examine causality, and potentially to suggest interventions for symptom management. Future studies should use longitudinal analyses to investigate change in symptom clusters, the influence of patient related factors, and the impact on outcomes (e.g., daily functioning) over time.

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ID Code: 34503
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: Yates, Patricia & Battistutta, Diana
Keywords: symptom clusters, symptoms, cancer, symptom experience, symptom management strategies, literature review, empirical methods, multivariate methods, exploratory factor analysis, common factor analysis, cluster analysis, principal axis factoring, stability, longitudinal analysis, chemotherapy, outpatients, nursing research, oncology, Theory of Unpleasant Symptoms
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Health
Current > Institutes > Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 16 Sep 2010 02:31
Last Modified: 23 Jun 2017 14:41

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