A mixed-methods qualitative research study to develop a complex intervention for weight loss and anorexia in advanced cancer: the Family Approach to Weight and Eating

Palliat Med. 2015 Feb;29(2):164-76. doi: 10.1177/0269216314556924. Epub 2014 Dec 12.


Background: Worldwide, most people with incurable cancer experience weight loss and anorexia. These symptoms can distress patients and their family caregivers. Interventions that take account of the relationship between patient and family caregiver may improve outcomes for both members of this dyad.

Aim: To report an example of process for the development of a complex intervention, the Family Approach to Weight and Eating.

Design: A mixed-methods process informed by the Medical Research Council's guidelines for developing a complex intervention was used to develop a psychosocial intervention for patients with incurable cancer and weight loss or poor appetite and their family caregivers and then to test for its feasibility, acceptability and perceived benefit.

Setting: South of England in 2010/2011.

Participants: A purposive sample of patient-family caregiver dyads under the care of a specialist community palliative care team. Patient participants had incurable cancer and were cachectic or at risk of cachexia.

Results: The patient-family caregiver dyads comprised seven female and nine male patients (age range 41-84 years) and their carers. The emergent form of the Family Approach to Weight and Eating was found to aid family talk about food, feelings and reciprocity, without adverse consequences. Of the dyads, 15 reported benefits of the Family Approach to Weight and Eating. Three patient participants spoke of the approach evoking sadness and three carers of guilt.

Conclusion: The Family Approach to Weight and Eating should now be tested in a pilot trial and the effect on emotional health outcomes in patients and their family caregivers evaluated.

Keywords: Research; caregivers; eating; neoplasms; psychosocial factors; weight loss.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Anorexia / etiology*
  • Anorexia / therapy
  • Cachexia
  • Caregivers / psychology*
  • England
  • Feasibility Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / complications*
  • Neoplasms / psychology
  • Program Development / methods*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Stress, Psychological
  • Weight Gain*
  • Weight Loss*