Caring for individuals with cancer has been identified as a rewarding task for carers to undertake. However, it has also been identified as a stressful burden, often negatively impacting the carers physical and psychosocial health and wellbeing. Head and neck cancer (HNC) patients experience a range of complex care needs such as the inability to swallow safely, communication difficulties and poor psychological health following treatment. These side effects consequently impact those looking after the patient at home.
In January 2017 four electronic databases, CINAHL, Medline, PsycINFO and ASSIA, were systematically searched to identify relevant literature addressing the proposed research question. A manual hand search was then conducted so that further relevant papers could be retrieved. A total of eight qualitative research papers and one mixed methods paper were selected that met the eligibility criteria. These papers were then critically appraised using CASP’s critical appraisal tool and analysed using thematic analysis.
Nine studies involving 105 carers were included in this review. All studies utilised semi-structured interviews to gather data. The studies were conducted in the United Kingdom (n = 3), Canada (n = 1), Sweden (n = 1), Australia (n = 2), Ireland (n = 1) and America (n = 1). From the thematic analysis four themes emerged from the data set identifying the specific challenges HNC carers faced; challenges due to new roles and responsibilities, information challenges, support challenges and relationship challenges.
This review identified the specific challenges experienced by carers of individuals diagnosed with HNC. The multiple caregiving responsibilities they undertake, impacted both their physical and emotional wellbeing. Furthermore, these challenges were found to be exacerbated by the inadequate provision of information and support facilitated by healthcare professionals. Awareness of these extensive challenges will help to identify ways of supporting carers in adapting to their new roles and responsibilities. Results may also guide development of future interventions and strategies aimed at providing information and psychosocial support for carers.
Clinical trial identification
Legal entity responsible for the study
Has not received any funding.
All authors have declared no conflicts of interest.