Advancing Symptom Science Through Symptom Cluster Research: Expert Panel Proceedings and Recommendations

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An overview of proceedings, findings, and recommendations from the workshop on “Advancing Symptom Science Through Symptom Cluster Research” sponsored by the National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR) and the Office of Rare Diseases Research, National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, is presented. This workshop engaged an expert panel in an evidenced-based discussion regarding the state of the science of symptom clusters in chronic conditions including cancer and other rare diseases. An interdisciplinary working group from the extramural research community representing nursing, medicine, oncology, psychology, and bioinformatics was convened at the National Institutes of Health. Based on expertise, members were divided into teams to address key areas: defining characteristics of symptom clusters, priority symptom clusters and underlying mechanisms, measurement issues, targeted interventions, and new analytic strategies. For each area, the evidence was synthesized, limitations and gaps identified, and recommendations for future research delineated. The majority of findings in each area were from studies of oncology patients. However, increasing evidence suggests that symptom clusters occur in patients with other chronic conditions (eg, pulmonary, cardiac, and end-stage renal disease). Nonetheless, symptom cluster research is extremely limited and scientists are just beginning to understand how to investigate symptom clusters by developing frameworks and new methods and approaches. With a focus on personalized care, an understanding of individual susceptibility to symptoms and whether a “driving” symptom exists that triggers other symptoms in the cluster is needed. Also, research aimed at identifying the mechanisms that underlie symptom clusters is essential to developing targeted interventions.

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