Psychological distress and unmet supportive care needs in cancer patients and carers who contact cancer helplines

S K Chambers, A Girgis, S Occhipinti, S Hutchison, J Turner, B Morris, J Dunn
European Journal of Cancer Care 2012, 21 (2): 213-23
Cancer information services are a highly accessible source of support for people affected by cancer. To date the nature and extent of distress experienced by such callers and their unmet support needs have not been well described. A cross-sectional survey of 354 cancer patients and 336 carers who reported elevated distress on contact with a cancer information service assessed socio-demographic variables; anxiety, depression and somatization; unmet supportive care needs; cancer-specific distress; presenting problems; post-traumatic growth. Adjustment to cancer was most commonly reported; followed by anxiety. In all, 53.4% of patients and 45.2% of carers reached caseness in anxiety, depression or somatization. Carers had higher distress ratings and intrusive thinking compared to patients; whereas patients had higher somatization. For patients, most unmet supportive care needs were psychological; for carers unmet needs were related to health care services and information related to the person diagnosed with cancer. Being single, unemployed, in treatment, having higher initial distress scores, higher intrusion and avoidance predicted poorer outcomes. Information service frameworks should include distress screening and clear triage and referral processes for psychological care.


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