Journal of General Internal Medicine

, Volume 29, Issue 9, pp 1274–1282 | Cite as

Effectiveness of Family and Caregiver Interventions on Patient Outcomes in Adults with Cancer: A Systematic Review

  • Joan M. Griffin
  • Laura A. Meis
  • Roderick MacDonald
  • Nancy Greer
  • Agnes Jensen
  • Indulis Rutks
  • Timothy J. Wilt



Family and caregiver interventions typically aim to develop family members’ coping and caregiving skills and to reduce caregiver burden. We conducted a systematic review of published randomized controlled trials (RCTs) evaluating whether family-involved interventions improve patient outcomes among adults with cancer.


RCTs enrolling patients with cancer were identified by searching MEDLINE, PsycInfo and other sources through December 2012. Studies were limited to subjects over 18 years of age, published in English language, and conducted in the United States. Patient outcomes included global quality of life; physical, general psychological and social functioning; depression/anxiety; symptom control and management; health care utilization; and relationship adjustment.


We identified 27 unique trials, of which 18 compared a family intervention to usual care or wait list (i.e., usual care with promise of intervention at completion of study period) and 13 compared one family intervention to another individual or family intervention (active control). Compared to usual care, overall strength of evidence for family interventions was low. The available data indicated that overall, family-involved interventions did not consistently improve outcomes of interest. Similarly, with low or insufficient evidence, family-involved interventions were not superior to active controls at improving cancer patient outcomes.


Overall, there was low or insufficient evidence that family and caregiver interventions were superior to usual or active care. Variability in study populations and interventions made pooling of data problematic and generalizing findings from any single study difficult. Most of the included trials were of poor or fair quality.


cancer systematic review caregivers patient outcomes 



This research was supported by the Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Health Administration, Office of Research and Development, Quality Enhancement Research Initiative (QUERI). The findings and conclusions are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Department of Veterans Affairs or QUERI. The sponsor was not involved in any aspect of the study’s design and conduct; data collection, management, analysis, or interpretation of data; or the preparation, review, or approval of the manuscript.

The authors thank members of the Technical Expert Panel who provided consultation on this review.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they do not have a conflict of interest. None of the authors has a direct interest in the results of the research. Publication will not confer a benefit on them or on any organization with which they are associated.

Supplementary material

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Appendix Table 3 (DOCX 35 kb)


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Copyright information

© Society of General Internal Medicine 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Joan M. Griffin
    • 1
    • 2
  • Laura A. Meis
    • 1
    • 2
  • Roderick MacDonald
    • 1
  • Nancy Greer
    • 1
  • Agnes Jensen
    • 1
  • Indulis Rutks
    • 1
  • Timothy J. Wilt
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  1. 1.Center for Chronic Disease Outcomes ResearchMinneapolis VA Health Care SystemMinneapolisUSA
  2. 2.University of Minnesota Medical SchoolMinneapolisUSA
  3. 3.Minneapolis VA Medical Center Section of General MedicineMinneapolisUSA

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