Early Patient Palliative Care Helps Family Caregivers

Early palliative care in cancer patients led to an improvement in depressive symptoms and quality of life among family caregivers.

The involvement of palliative care early on in the process of treating patients with cancer led to an improvement in depressive symptoms and quality of life among family caregivers, according to the results of a study (abstract 10131) presented at a press briefing ahead of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Annual Meeting, held in Chicago.

“We can now say that the benefits of early palliative care extend beyond patient outcomes and can positively impact family caregivers,” said presenter Areej El-Jawahri, MD, director of the bone marrow transplant survivorship program at Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center. “The early integration of palliative care for patients who have newly diagnosed lung and gastrointestinal cancers leads to improvement in family caregivers’ depression and important aspects of their quality of life.”

This randomized trial included 350 patients with incurable lung or gastrointestinal cancer and 272 eligible family caregivers, defined as relatives or friends who would likely accompany the patients to clinic visits. The patients were assigned either to early palliative care in addition to oncology care or to oncology care alone. All patients had at least monthly palliative care visits from the time of study enrollment. Caregivers were not required to attend these meetings; however, El-Jawahri said that about 50% of family caregivers did attend.

Caregivers were assessed for depression and quality of life and mood at baseline, and at weeks 12 and 24. At 12 weeks, caregivers of patients receiving palliative care had higher vitality (P = .05) and social functioning (P = .02) compared with decreases seen in caregivers of patients receiving oncology care only. The differences between control and the intervention for these two parameters disappeared by 24 weeks.

At 12 weeks, caregivers of patients assigned to palliative care also had lower depression symptoms (P = .03). This difference persisted at 24 weeks (P = .05).

“This is the first study showing the positive impact of a patient-focused palliative care intervention on family caregivers,” El-Jawahri said.

She added that it seems like the improvement that the family caregivers experienced appears to be at least partially mediated by the patients feeling better. Results from the patient-focused intervention aspect of the study will also be presented at the ASCO Annual Meeting in June.