Informal caregivers of head and neck cancer (HNC) patients have a high caregiver burden and often face complex practical caregiving tasks. This may result in unmet supportive care needs, which can impact their quality of life (QoL) and cause psychological distress. In this study, we identify caregivers’ unmet needs during long-term follow-up and identify caregivers prone to unmet supportive care needs.
Data were used from the multicenter prospective cohort study NETherlands QUality of life and Biomedical cohort studies In Cancer (NET-QUBIC). The unmet supportive care needs, psychological distress, caregiver burden, and QoL were measured for 234 informal caregivers and their related patients at baseline, 3, 6, 12, and 24 months after. Mixed effect models for repeated measurements were used.
At baseline, most caregivers (70.3%) reported at least one unmet supportive care need, with most of the identified needs in the “healthcare & illness” domain. During the follow-up period, caregivers’ unmet needs decreased significantly in all domains. Nevertheless, 2 years after treatment, 28.3% were still reporting at least one unmet need. Financial problems were increasingly associated with unmet needs over time. Furthermore, caring for a patient who themselves had many unmet needs, an advanced tumor stage, or severe comorbidity was associated with significantly more unmet needs in caregivers.
The current study shows the strong likelihood of caregivers of HNC patients facing unmet supportive care needs and the interaction between the needs of patients and caregivers. It is important to optimally support informal caregivers by involving them from the start when counseling patients, by providing them with relevant and understandable information, and by referring vulnerable caregivers for (psychosocial) support.