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Erin Kent, PhD
©ASCO/Todd Buchanan 2016

SAN FRANCISCO—New research suggests caring for a loved one with cancer may be more burdensome than caring for a loved one with a different condition.

Researchers analyzed data from “Caregiving in the U.S. 2015,” an online panel study of unpaid adult caregivers.

The team compared cancer and non-cancer caregivers to determine similarities and differences in characteristics and experiences.

The findings were presented at the 2016 Palliative Care in Oncology Symposium (abstract 4).

The study included 1248 caregivers, age 18 and older at the time they were surveyed, who provided care to an adult patient. Seven percent of these caregivers were looking after patients with cancer.

Cancer caregivers reported spending more hours per week providing care than non-cancer caregivers—32.9 and 23.9 hours, respectively.

In addition, cancer caregivers were more likely than other caregivers to communicate with healthcare professionals (82% and 62%, respectively), monitor and adjust patients’ care (76% and 66%, respectively), and advocate on behalf of patients (62% and 49%, respectively).

Despite high levels of engagement with providers, cancer caregivers were nearly twice as likely as non-cancer caregivers to report needing more help and information with making end-of-life decisions—40% and 21%, respectively.

“Our research demonstrates the ripple effect that cancer has on families and patient support systems,” said study investigator Erin Kent, PhD, of the National Cancer Institute in Rockville, Maryland.

“Caregiving can be extremely stressful and demanding—physically, emotionally, and financially. The data show we need to do a better job of supporting these individuals, as their wellbeing is essential to the patient’s quality of life and outcomes.”

Dr Kent emphasized the cyclical nature of cancer care, often requiring short, highly intense periods of time where patients undergo active treatment as a possible reason for the increased intensity in caregiving. She noted that such intensity is also associated with increased caregiver stress and depression.

“Based on our findings, it’s clear we need additional research on caregiving to better understand at what point providers and clinicians should intervene to assess the wellbeing of caregivers,” Dr Kent said.

“Technology, combined with use of a clinical distress rating system, could be promising in the future as a means to ensure caregivers are being supported in a meaningful way.” end hematology article

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