Open Access Highly Accessed Study protocol

Prevalence of mental disorders, psychosocial distress and need for psychosocial support in cancer patients – study protocol of an epidemiological multi-center study

Anja Mehnert1*, Uwe Koch1, Holger Schulz1, Karl Wegscheider2, Joachim Weis3, Hermann Faller4, Monika Keller5, Elmar Brähler6 and Martin Härter1

Author affiliations

1 Department and Outpatient Clinic of Medical Psychology, University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf, Martinistrasse 52, 20246, Hamburg, Germany

2 Department of Medical Biometry and Epidemiology, University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf, Martinistr. 52, 20246, Hamburg, Germany

3 Department of Psychooncology, Tumor Biology Center, University of Freiburg, Breisacher Str. 117, 79106, Freiburg, Germany

4 Institute of Psychotherapy and Medical Psychology, University of Würzburg, Klinikstr. 3, 97070, Würzburg, Germany

5 Division of Psychooncology, Department for Psychosomatic and General Clinical Medicine, University Hospital Heidelberg, Im Neuenheimer Feld 155, 69120, Heidelberg, Germany

6 Department of Medical Psychology and Medical Sociology, University Medical Center Leipzig, Philipp-Rosenthal-Str. 55, 04103, Leipzig, Germany

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Citation and License

BMC Psychiatry 2012, 12:70  doi:10.1186/1471-244X-12-70

Published: 2 July 2012



Empirical studies investigating the prevalence of mental disorders and psychological distress in cancer patients have gained increasing importance during recent years, particularly with the objective to develop and implement psychosocial interventions within the cancer care system. Primary purpose of this epidemiological cross-sectional multi-center study is to detect the 4-week-, 12-month-, and lifetime prevalence rates of comorbid mental disorders and to further assess psychological distress and psychosocial support needs in cancer patients across all major tumor entities within the in- and outpatient oncological health care and rehabilitation settings in Germany.


In this multicenter, epidemiological cross-sectional study, cancer patients across all major tumor entities will be enrolled from acute care hospitals, outpatient cancer care facilities, and rehabilitation centers in five major study centers in Germany: Freiburg, Hamburg, Heidelberg, Leipzig and Würzburg. A proportional stratified random sample based on the nationwide incidence of all cancer diagnoses in Germany is used. Patients are consecutively recruited in all centers. On the basis of a depression screener (PHQ-9) 50% of the participants that score below the cutoff point of 9 and all patients scoring above are assessed using the Composite International Diagnostic Interview for Oncology (CIDI-O). In addition, all patients complete validated questionnaires measuring emotional distress, information and psychosocial support needs as well as quality of life.


Epidemiological data on the prevalence of mental disorders and distress provide detailed and valid information for the estimation of the demands for the type and extent of psychosocial support interventions. The data will provide information about specific demographic, functional, cancer- and treatment-related risk factors for mental comorbidity and psychosocial distress, specific supportive care needs and use of psychosocial support offers.