Background: Receiving a cancer diagnosis affects family members as well as the person diagnosed. Family members often provide support for the sick person in daily life out of duty and love, and may not always think of their own vulnerability to illness. To individualise support for them, family members who are most at risk for becoming ill must be identified.The aim of this study was to investigate health-related quality of life (HRQOL) in family members of patients with advanced lung or gastrointestinal cancer 3 to 15 months after diagnosis.
Methods: Data on mental and physical dimensions of HRQOL were collected from family members of these patients in this prospective quantitative study. Five assessments using the Short Form 36 Health Survey (SF-36) and EuroQol (EQ-5D) were conducted during a 1-year period starting 3 months after diagnosis. Thirty-six family members completed the study, i.e. participated in all five data collections.
Results: No statistically significant changes in physical or mental HRQOL within the study group appeared over the 1-year follow-up. Compared with norm-based scores, family members had significantly poorer mental HRQOL scores throughout the year as measured by the SF-36. Family members also scored statistically significantly worse on the EQ-5D VAS in all five assessments compared to the norm-based score. Findings showed that older family members and partners were at higher risk for decreased physical HRQOL throughout the 1-year period, and younger family members were at higher risk for poorer mental HRQOL.
Conclusions: It is well known that ill health is associated with poor HRQOL. By identifying family members with poor HRQOL, those at risk of ill health can be identified and supported. Future large-scale research that verifies our findings is needed before making recommendations for individualised support and creating interventions best tailored to family members at risk for illness.