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Support Care Cancer. 2009 Aug;17(8):1117-28. doi: 10.1007/s00520-009-0615-5. Epub 2009 Mar 25.

What are the unmet supportive care needs of people with cancer? A systematic review.

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  • 1Surgical Outcomes Research Centre (SOuRCe), Sydney South West Area Health Service & School of Public Health, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, University of Sydney, PO Box M157, Missenden Road, NSW 2050, Sydney, Australia.



The identification and management of unmet supportive care needs is an essential component of health care for people with cancer. Information about the prevalence of unmet need can inform service planning/redesign.


A systematic review of electronic databases was conducted to determine the prevalence of unmet supportive care needs at difference time points of the cancer experience.


Of 94 articles or reports identified, 57 quantified the prevalence of unmet need. Prevalence of unmet need, their trends and predictors were highly variable in all domains at all time points. The most frequently reported unmet needs were those in the activities of daily living domain (1-73%), followed by psychological (12-85%), information (6-93%), psychosocial (1-89%) and physical (7-89%). Needs within the spiritual (14-51%), communication (2-57%) and sexuality (33-63%) domains were least frequently investigated. Unmet needs appear to be highest and most varied during treatment, however a greater number of individuals were likely to express unmet need post-treatment compared to any other time. Tumour-specific unmet needs were difficult to distinguish. Variations in the classification of unmet need, differences in reporting methods and the diverse samples from which patients were drawn inhibit comparisons of studies.


The diversity of methods used in studies hinders analysis of patterns and predictors of unmet need among people with cancer and precludes generalisation. Well-designed, context-specific, prospective studies, using validated instruments and standard methods of analysis and reporting, are needed to benefit future interventional research to identify how best to address the unmet supportive care needs of people with cancer.

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