Background: Cancer affects not only the quality of life (QOL) of individuals with the disease but also that of their family members and close friends. The impact on various aspects of the family caregivers' QOL is significant throughout the trajectory of the illness. The authors reviewed literature on the QOL of family caregivers at the acute and middle- to long-term survivorship phases as well as the bereavement phase.
Methods: By using several databases, the authors searched the literature published in English from 1996 through July 2007. Keywords searched included cancer, carcinoma, family, family member, caregivers, and quality of life. Several criteria were used to guide the literature review: Articles had to be published in refereed journals and had to use rigorous methods, sample, and validated measures.
Results: The findings suggested that the QOL of family caregivers of individuals with cancer varies along the illness trajectory. This highlights were importance of assessing the ongoing adjustment of the caregivers over time. However, there were few theory-driven studies, and significant gaps remain in the current understanding of the effects of family caregiving beyond the time of diagnosis and treatment.
Conclusions: Accumulating evidence has supported the concept that cancer affects not only the patients/survivors but also their family members. However, theoretically and methodologically rigorous research on various aspects of the family's QOL, including not only the psychological but also the physical, spiritual, and behavioral adjustment to cancer in the family, remains sparse. Family-based interventions across the trajectory of the illness also are needed.