Objectives. Most studies on fatigue in patients with cancer aggregate its prevalence and severity on a group level, ignoring the possibility that subgroups of patients may differ widely in their development of fatigue. This study aimed to identify subgroups of patients with clinically distinct trajectories of fatigue from diagnosis to 18 months post-diagnosis. As fatigue might trigger goal disturbance, the study also identified trajectories of concrete and abstract goal disturbance and longitudinally examined their co-occurrence with fatigue.
Design. Prospective design with quantitative and qualitative method of data collection.
Methods. Patients with colorectal cancer (n = 183) reported on their levels of fatigue and goal disturbance shortly after diagnosis (T-1) and at 7 months (T-2) and 18 months (T-3) post-diagnosis. Growth mixture model analyses were performed to identify trajectories of fatigue and goal disturbance. Guidelines for the clinical relevance of fatigue were applied.
Results. Four clinically distinct trajectories of fatigue were identified as follows: (1) persistent severe fatigue (25.4%), (2) moderate fatigue (56.1%), (3) no fatigue (13.8%), and (4) rapidly improving fatigue (4.7%). The majority of patients with cancer reported high disturbance of their concrete goals, while high disturbance of abstract goals was less evident. Fatigue and concrete goal disturbance co-occurred longitudinally.
Conclusions. The fatigue and goal disturbance experienced from diagnosis to 18 months post-diagnosis differ considerably for subgroups of patients with cancer. Fatigue and concrete goal disturbance are persistent burdens in the majority of patients. Investigating symptom burden beyond average trends can guide clinicians to identify patients most in need for treatment. Targeting goal disturbance might benefit the psychological well-being in patients suffering from persistent symptoms.
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