The effectiveness of patient-family carer (couple) intervention for the management of symptoms and other health-related problems in people affected by cancer: a systematic literature search and narrative review

J Pain Symptom Manage. 2012 Jan;43(1):111-42. doi: 10.1016/j.jpainsymman.2011.03.013. Epub 2011 Jun 30.


Context: Cancer is widely acknowledged to impact on the whole family. Yet, we do not know if there is benefit (or harm) from patient-family carer interventions in the context of cancer care.

Objectives: To report a systematic search for and narrative review of patient-family carer interventions tested in the context of cancer care for effect on symptoms and other health-related problems in patients and/or their family members.

Methods: A systematic literature search was carried out using Cochrane principles. Searches were of MEDLINE, EMBASE, PsycINFO, and CINAHL databases for reported trials of patient-family carer focused interventions. Outcomes of interest were health indicators; measures of physical, psychological, social, and quality-of-life status of the patient and/or family member(s). Limits were English language; 1998 to March 2010; and adults. Relevant information was extracted, quality assessed using the Cochrane Collaboration's tool for assessing risk of bias, and presented as a narrative synthesis (meta-analysis was not appropriate).

Results: The review found no empirically tested interventions for family groups (patient and two or more family members), but 22 interventions for patient-family carer partnerships (couple interventions) tested in 23 studies and reported in 27 publications. Recruitment and attrition were problematic in these studies, limiting the reliability and generalizability of their results.

Conclusion: In the trials of cancer couple interventions included in the review, a pattern emerged of improvement in the emotional health of cancer patients and their carers when the intervention included support for the patient-family carer relationship. Further investigation is warranted.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Caregivers / statistics & numerical data*
  • Comorbidity
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Neoplasms / nursing*
  • Pain / epidemiology*
  • Pain / nursing*
  • Social Support
  • Stress, Psychological / epidemiology*
  • Stress, Psychological / nursing*
  • Treatment Outcome