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J Support Oncol. 2004 Mar-Apr;2(2):145-55.

The emerging role and needs of family caregivers in cancer care.

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Department of Pain Medicine and Palliative Care, Beth Israel Medical Center, First Avenue at 16th Street, New York, NY 10003, USA.


Involvement of family caregivers is essential for optimal treatment of cancer patients in ensuring treatment compliance, continuity of care, and social support, particularly at the end of life. The diagnosis of cancer presents a major crisis not only to the patient but also to the patient's primary caregiver. Caregivers often assume this role under sudden and extreme circumstances, with minimal preparation and uneven guidance and support from the healthcare system. The primary setting for the delivery of care to patients with cancer has shifted from the hospital to the home as a result of increased use of outpatient services for cancer treatment, shortened hospital visits, longer survival,and the trend for caregivers to accommodate patients' desire to be cared for at home for as long as possible. Caring for a family member with cancer poses significant challenges, with considerable psychological and physical consequences for the caregiver. Family caregiving has gained attention in the past decade with growing realization that support for family caregivers benefits the caregiver, the patient, and the healthcare team. This article will attempt to provide an understanding of the multifaceted role of caregivers in cancer care, describe the impact of this role on the caregiver's quality of life, impart an understanding of the caregiver's burden and unmet needs, highlight adaptational requirements of caregivers along the disease trajectory, and describe interventions for providing support to nonmedical persons caring for patients with cancer.

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