Palliative care helps families facing cancer

Palliative care helps families facing cancer

20 May 2016

Caregivers of cancer patients had significantly better quality of life and less depression when palliative care was initiated soon after cancer diagnosis, a randomized trial showed.

“Early palliative care creates a positive feedback loop in families facing cancer”

Family caregivers have a key role in the care of patients with cancer, but the burden of the disease-associated responsibilities can negatively affect caregivers' quality of life and mood, as demonstrated by multiple studies.

Early integration of palliative care with cancer care has been shown to improve quality of life and mood in patients with advanced cancers, but evidence of any benefits of palliation on caregiver outcomes has remained sparse.

Though several studies have suggested that patients benefit from early introduction of palliative care, this study is the first to show benefits for family caregivers of patients with cancer, Areej El-Jawahri, MD, commented. "We can now say that the benefits of early palliative care extend beyond patient outcomes and positively impact family caregivers," said El-Jawahri, of Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center. "We're truly seeing the impact of integrating early palliative care for patients with newly diagnosed disease and their families. It seems that the improvement in family caregiver outcomes appears to be at least partially mediated by improvement in patient outcomes.

"This study suggests that early palliative care creates a powerful positive feedback loop in families facing cancer," she added. "While patients receive a direct benefit from early palliative care, their caregivers experience a positive downstream effect, which may make it easier for them to care for their loved ones."


The trial involved family caregivers of lung and gastrointestinal cancer patients

El-Jawahri and colleagues performed a randomized trial, involving family caregivers of patients with newly diagnosed incurable lung and gastrointestinal cancers. Each patient identified a relative or friend as the primary caregiver.

Investigators randomized 275 patients to early initiation of palliative care along with cancer care or to cancer care only. The trial evaluated a patient-focused intervention that involved at least monthly patient visits with palliative care specialists, beginning at enrollment. Family caregivers were not required to attend the palliative care sessions but were evaluated at baseline and at 12 and 24 weeks by means of the SF-36 quality-of-life instrument and the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS).

Clinical findings

The trial had two principal objectives: Evaluate the impact of early palliative care on patient outcomes and on the quality of life and level of depression among caregivers.

The data showed that:

  • 74.7% of the palliative care visits addressed patient symptoms, followed by coping in 70.2%, rapport in 44.4%, and illness understanding in 38.4%.
  • Symptoms addressed most often during the visits were pain (58.4%) and fatigue (52.1%).
  • The coping topics addressed most often during the palliation sessions were redirecting hope (71.1%), coping counseling (67.0%), and behavioral coping (65.4%).
  • At the 12-week follow-up, family caregivers in the palliative care arm had a significantly higher mean score on the vitality and social functioning subscales of the SF-36, as well as fewer depressive symptoms on the HADS.
  • Nonsignificant differences favoring the palliative care arm were observed for subscales related to bodily pain and physical-role function.
  • At 24 weeks, only the difference in depressive symptoms remained significantly different in favor of the family caregivers whose patients were randomized to early palliative care.

The findings represent a new twist on existing evidence that the care patients receive can affect the bereavement process and adjustment of the family members of patients with cancer, said Holly Prigerson, PhD, of Weill Cornell Medicine and New York Presbyterian Hospital. "Several studies have demonstrated this, but this is among the few looking at outcomes of a palliative care intervention," Prigerson added.

Source: MedPage Today

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