Objective: This review provides a summary of the current understanding of the health and well-being of the head and neck cancer (HNC) caregiver. Our goal is to understand the healthcare needs required by the caregivers of our oncologic patients, which may ultimately influence quality of care and support that cancer patients require during treatment and recovery.
Methods: Independent database searches were conducted to identify articles describing HNC caregiver health and healthcare utilization. Search terms included key synonyms for head and neck cancer, caregiver, psychological stress, anxiety, depression, mental health service, and delivery of healthcare in the title/abstract.
Results: After following the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) Protocol, a total of 21 studies were included. Among the 21 studies in the review, a total of 1745 caregivers were included. The average age was 57 years, the majority were female (58%-100%), and spouses/partners of the patients (77%). The literature demonstrates significant anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and physical health decline in addition to multifaceted unmet physical and mental health needs among HNC caregivers.
Conclusion: There is no standard for examining HNC caregiver healthcare needs, while there is evidence of increased healthcare utilization. The literature is limited regarding medical burdens faced by caregivers. Future research is needed to assess the physical health and comorbidities of HNC caregivers and their engagement with the healthcare system to guide further implementation of support models to address the needs of this population.
Keywords: Caregiver; PTSD; anxiety; depression; head and neck cancer; unmet needs.