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Caring at the end of life: do cancer caregivers differ from other caregivers?


Objective Cancer is one of the most common health conditions in receipt of informal caregiving. This study compares key characteristics of caregivers who cared for someone with cancer until death with caregivers of people with other life-limiting illnesses and their care recipients irrespective of health service utilisation.

Method Data were analysed from annual state-wide South Australian Health Omnibus Surveys (2000–2007) involving 14 624 respondents, regarding end of life care. Descriptive and comparative data are presented.

Results Almost a third of respondents (32%; participation rate 72%) had someone close to them die from an ‘expected’ death in the preceding 5 years. One in 10 (10%) respondents reported providing hands-on care predominantly for someone with cancer. Compared with non-cancer caregivers, cancer caregivers cared for someone who was significantly younger (mean age 66 (95% CI 64 to 67) years vs 74 (95% CI 72 to 77) years; one-way analysis of variance p<0.0001) and were more likely to report having a hospice/palliative care service involved in the care of the deceased (65% (95% CI 63 to 67) compared with 39% (95% CI 37 to 42). In the Australian context, this may mean contact with inpatient, outpatient and community-based services.

There were no differences between the needs which caregivers perceived to be unmet or the perceptions that no additional supports were required between the two groups.

Conclusions Informal caregivers perform a critical social and economic role in care provision. Cancer caregivers are a proportionally larger cohort than non-cancer caregivers. With the increasing incidence of cancer, the sustainability of a voluntary cancer caregiving workforce will be reliant upon minimising the burden of care.

  • Cancer
  • Supportive Care

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