Aims To explore research with a focus of family caregiver as the unit of care during cancer treatment for adults across prevention, treatment, supportive care, rehabilitation and early palliative care and to identify interventional studies with a focus on family caregiver support.
Methods The Pickering method was used for this quantitative literature review. Medline, Scopus, PsycInfo, Cochrane and CINAHL databases were searched systematically and articles were screened using the PRISMA framework. Articles published in English between 2008-2019 were included. Data from quantitative studies were coded into variables to allow for comparison across study designs. Study data were reported on using frequencies and descriptive statistics (mean, standard deviation, range). Themes from each study were developed and a thematic analysis was conducted.
Results 855 articles were retrieved, of these 73 were included into the review. The majority of studies (n=42, 62%) were conducted in the USA and focused on patient/spouse dyads (n=68, 93%). The mean age of carers was 58 (SD 25-88). Fifty-six (76%) studies were quantitative, of which 8 (14%) trialed an intervention. Interventions were conducted in face-to-face settings, over the telephone, videoconference, DVD, mobile applications or computer modalities. Interventions focused on providing education, coping, psychological support and relaxation and the optimum length of time was ten weeks. Across intervention studies follow up occurred most commonly between four to six months. Three themes were derived across studies and included “who cancer affects”, “communication within the family” and “family resources used”.
Conclusions Family caregiver research is predominately conducted on spouses as a dyad. Interventions which focused on family as a unit of care providing strategies to work through problems and develop hope improved patient and caregiver outcomes. Research is needed to understand the diversity of caregivers. Interventional studies are needed to develop ways to support caregivers in their community.