Professional Societies Endorse 2015 Standard for Cancer Center Accreditation by Commission on Cancer 

American Psychosocial Oncology Society to Provide Support for Required Cancer Center Distress Screening

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In 2015, the American College of Surgeons (ACoS) Commission on Cancer (CoC) will require cancer centers to implement screening programs for psychosocial distress as a new criterion for accreditation. The American Psychosocial Oncology Society (APOS) recently announced recommendations to support a new criterion for cancer center accreditation.

APOS, along with the Association of Oncology Social Workers (AOSW) and Oncology Nursing Society (ONS) endorse the new Commission on Cancer standard of psychosocial distress screening. “This is a landmark in our work to provide cancer care for the whole patient,” said Jimmie C. Holland, MD, Wayne E. Chapman Chair in Psychiatric Oncology at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York, and founder of APOS. “This mandatory screening will help address unmet psychosocial needs throughout oncology care. Our organization exists, in part, to provide educational support to meet the new CoC standards,” Dr. Holland said.

Vast Impact Anticipated

This requirement will have a vast impact on patient care. There are currently over 1,500 CoC-accredited facilities in the United States serving 70% of newly diagnosed cancer patients. “The Cancer Support Community is pleased to join APOS, AOSW, and ONS in supporting the adoption of required distress screening in cancer care,” said Kim Thiboldeaux, President and CEO of the Cancer Support Community. “Integrating routine distress screening and helping patients develop a care plan to address their social, emotional, and financial needs are essential to quality cancer care.”

APOS, together with AOSW and ONS, has published a joint statement, identifying eight key issues (see sidebar) that must be addressed before cancer centers can adhere to the new guidelines and provide quality patient care.

“We’re pleased that the CoC has taken this step,” said William F. Pirl, MD, MPH, Director of the Center for Psychiatric Oncology and Behavioral Sciences at Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center, Boston, and President of APOS. “Our organizations, representing over 36,000 professionals involved in care for patients with cancer, recommend that cancer centers to explore resources to help them adopt a universal definition of distress, use validated tools for distress screening, conduct screening more than once during a patient’s period of treatment, and establish a process for clear communication of results to the patient’s treatment team.”

Part of Routine Care

The joint statement emphasizes that referrals for the assessment and management of distress should be considered part of a patient’s routine medical care, and presented to the patient as such. Because the risk of suicide is elevated in individuals with cancer, patients whose screens suggest suicide risk should be asked about suicidal ideation as part of their clinical evaluation.

To prepare for 2015 and the implementation of the screening program, APOS recommends that the required psychosocial representative on the cancer committee who oversees the screening program should have training in the identification and management of distress in patients with cancer. Online training opportunities are available through APOS (, AOSW, and ONS. ■

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SIDEBAR: Key Issues in Joint Commission Statement by American Psychosocial Oncology Society, Association of Oncology Social Work, and Oncology Nursing Society

  • It is imperative that [Commission on Cancer]-accredited programs adopt a universal definition of distress. We concur with the National Comprehensive Cancer Network definition of distress as an “unpleasant emotional experience of a psychological (cognitive, behavioral, emotional), social, and/or...