Supportive Care in Cancer

, Volume 25, Issue 3, pp 965–971 | Cite as

Mental and physical health correlates among family caregivers of patients with newly-diagnosed incurable cancer: a hierarchical linear regression analysis

  • Kelly M. Shaffer
  • Jamie M. Jacobs
  • Ryan D. Nipp
  • Alaina Carr
  • Vicki A. Jackson
  • Elyse R. Park
  • William F. Pirl
  • Areej El-Jawahri
  • Emily R. Gallagher
  • Joseph A. Greer
  • Jennifer S. Temel
Original Article



Caregiver, relational, and patient factors have been associated with the health of family members and friends providing care to patients with early-stage cancer. Little research has examined whether findings extend to family caregivers of patients with incurable cancer, who experience unique and substantial caregiving burdens. We examined correlates of mental and physical health among caregivers of patients with newly-diagnosed incurable lung or non-colorectal gastrointestinal cancer.


At baseline for a trial of early palliative care, caregivers of participating patients (N = 275) reported their mental and physical health (Medical Outcome Survey-Short Form-36); patients reported their quality of life (Functional Assessment of Cancer Therapy-General). Analyses used hierarchical linear regression with two-tailed significance tests.


Caregivers’ mental health was worse than the U.S. national population (M = 44.31, p < .001), yet their physical health was better (M = 56.20, p < .001). Hierarchical regression analyses testing caregiver, relational, and patient factors simultaneously revealed that younger (B = 0.31, p = .001), spousal caregivers (B = −8.70, p = .003), who cared for patients reporting low emotional well-being (B = 0.51, p = .01) reported worse mental health; older (B = −0.17, p = .01) caregivers with low educational attainment (B = 4.36, p < .001) who cared for patients reporting low social well-being (B = 0.35, p = .05) reported worse physical health.


In this large sample of family caregivers of patients with incurable cancer, caregiver demographics, relational factors, and patient-specific factors were all related to caregiver mental health, while caregiver demographics were primarily associated with caregiver physical health. These findings help identify characteristics of family caregivers at highest risk of poor mental and physical health who may benefit from greater supportive care.


Incurable cancer Palliative care Informal caregiving Mental health Physical health 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The study was funded by: National Institute of Nursing Research R01 NR012735 (Temel) and National Cancer Institute K24 CA181253 (Temel). The authors declare they have no conflicts of interest.

Research involving human participants and/or animals: The study was approved by the Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center Institutional Review Board. 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. This article does not contain any studies with animals performed by any of the authors.

Informed consent

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

Funding sources

National Institute of Nursing Research R01 NR012735 (Temel) and National Cancer Institute K24 CA181253 (Temel).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kelly M. Shaffer
    • 1
    • 2
  • Jamie M. Jacobs
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Ryan D. Nipp
    • 2
    • 3
  • Alaina Carr
    • 3
  • Vicki A. Jackson
    • 2
    • 3
  • Elyse R. Park
    • 1
    • 2
  • William F. Pirl
    • 2
    • 3
  • Areej El-Jawahri
    • 2
    • 3
  • Emily R. Gallagher
    • 3
  • Joseph A. Greer
    • 2
    • 3
  • Jennifer S. Temel
    • 2
    • 3
  1. 1.Massachusetts General HospitalBostonUSA
  2. 2.Harvard Medical SchoolBostonUSA
  3. 3.Division of Hematology/OncologyMassachusetts General Hospital Cancer CenterBostonUSA

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