The relationship between response style and symptom reporting in cancer patients

Teresa L. Deshields, Valentina Penalba, Cassandra Arroyo, Benjamin Tan, Amaris Tippey, Manik Amin, Rebecca Miller, Afton Nelson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: Patient-reported outcomes are considered the gold standard for documenting treatment-related toxicities and cancer-related symptoms in the management of oncology patients. Poor concordance between patients and health care professionals (HCPs) on patients’ symptoms has been documented. The purpose of this study is to examine the association between social desirability, a response style, and symptom reporting in a colorectal cancer clinic. Methods: Patients being treated for colorectal cancer completed a social desirability measure and a symptom measure before their appointment in the oncology clinic. The HCP who saw the patient completed a symptom measure for the patient after the clinic visit. Results: One hundred sixty-nine patients consented to participate in the study. The majority of the patients had stage 4 disease. There was a statistically significant positive correlation between social desirability and overall reported symptom burden. There was a statistically significant negative correlation between social desirability and concordance between the patient and the HCP on the patient’s symptoms. Social desirability scores were stable over the course of 1 year. Conclusion: Sensitivity to social desirability effects seems to play an important role in patient self-report of symptoms. As social desirability is a stable quality, patients sensitive to it may be persistently at risk for undertreatment of symptoms due to limited symptom reporting.

Original languageEnglish
Article number312
JournalSupportive Care in Cancer
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2023


  • Cancer
  • Patient-reported outcomes
  • Social desirability
  • Symptom burden
  • Symptom concordance
  • Symptom reporting


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