Supportive Care in Cancer

, Volume 24, Issue 8, pp 3437–3445 | Cite as

Vulnerable characteristics and interest in wellness programs among head and neck cancer caregivers

  • Chandylen L. NightingaleEmail author
  • Katherine R. Sterba
  • Janet A. Tooze
  • Brandy-Joe Milliron
  • Lee Anne Tetrick
  • Min-So Paek
  • Kathryn E. Weaver
Original Article



Head and neck cancer (HNC) caregivers have poorer psychological health compared to patients and the general population but have not yet been targeted for wellness programs to reduce adverse psychosocial or physical health outcomes. To inform development of such programs, we identified potential vulnerabilities to poor outcomes and examined wellness program preferences among HNC caregivers. We also examined whether interest in wellness programs varied by potential vulnerabilities among HNC caregivers.


Surveys were administered to caregivers (n = 33) of HNC patients undergoing major surgery. Sociodemographic factors, caregiving characteristics, psychosocial functioning, and health behavior data were collected. Fisher’s exact tests and t tests were used to examine characteristics associated with interest in the different types of wellness programs.


Many caregivers reported a heavy caregiving load (88 % live with patient and 73 % provide daily care), a smoking history (42 %), and compromised psychosocial functioning (45 % with depressive symptoms and 33 % with anxiety above population norms). Most caregivers were interested in wellness programs focused on diet/exercise (71.9 %); cancer education (66.7 %); stress reduction (63.6 %); and finances, caregiving, and well-being (57.6 %). Caregivers endorsed highest interest in programs offered during the patient’s medical treatment (63.6 %), and mail was the preferred program format (50.0 %). Those with more depressive symptoms reported more interest in programs focused on cancer education (p = 0.03); stress reduction (p = 0.05); and educational classes on finances, caregiving, and well-being (p = 0.01).


Wellness programs offering a menu of options should be developed for HNC caregivers.


Caregivers Head and neck cancer Cancer Wellness programs Mental health Oncology 



This study was funded by the Hollings Cancer Center at the Medical University of South Carolina and the Comprehensive Cancer Center of Wake Forest University (CCCWFU). This project was supported by the Biostatistics Core of the CCCWFU (P30 CA012197). Data management support (REDCap) was provided by the Wake Forest School of Medicine Translational Sciences Institute, National Center for Research Resources/National Institutes of Health (NCRR/NIH) grant M01RR007122. Katherine Sterba’s work on this manuscript was supported by a Mentored Research Scholar Grant in Applied and Clinical Research (MRSG-12-221-01-CPPB) from the American Cancer Society. Chandylen Nightingale and Min-So Paek’s work on this manuscript was supported by a Cancer Control Traineeship, National Cancer Institute/National Institute of Health (NCI/NIH; R25CA122061). The authors wish to acknowledge recruitment and data collection support from the following individuals: Rebecca Patten, OT, and Amy Buchanan, MPH, at the Medical University of South Carolina and Kathryn Josephs, MS, at Wake Forest School of Medicine.

Compliance with ethical standards

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Chandylen L. Nightingale
    • 1
    Email author
  • Katherine R. Sterba
    • 2
  • Janet A. Tooze
    • 3
  • Brandy-Joe Milliron
    • 4
  • Lee Anne Tetrick
    • 2
  • Min-So Paek
    • 1
  • Kathryn E. Weaver
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Social Sciences and Health Policy and Comprehensive Cancer Center of Wake Forest UniversityWake Forest School of MedicineWinston-SalemUSA
  2. 2.Department of Public Health Sciences and Hollings Cancer CenterMedical University of South CarolinaCharlestonUSA
  3. 3.Department of Biostatistical Sciences and Comprehensive Cancer Center of Wake Forest UniversityWake Forest School of MedicineWinston-SalemUSA
  4. 4.Department of Nutrition Sciences, College of Nursing and HealthDrexel UniversityPhiladelphiaUSA

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