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Impact of caregivers’ negative response to cancer on long-term survivors’ quality of life

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Cancer survivors’ quality of life (QoL) is consistently shown to be positively impacted by social support from family and friends, including informal caregivers. In contrast, a loved one’s negative response to cancer can diminish survivors’ QoL, and these negative responses can be more impactful than supportive behaviors. Nonetheless, negative caregiver response has not been extensively researched, and few studies have explored the potential interaction of negative caregiver response and perceived social support on survivors’ QoL. Therefore, we examined direct effects of perceived negative caregiver response, and the potential moderating role of social support, on QoL in a population-based sample of cancer survivors (N = 7543) using generalized linear models. Findings indicate that survivors who rated their caregiver’s response to their cancer diagnosis more negatively reported worse physical and mental health, even up to 10 years after their initial cancer diagnosis. Perceived social support was not significantly associated with physical health, but it was positively associated with mental health. However, social support was not shown to moderate the relationship between negative caregiver response and mental health. Findings suggest that positive support from others within a survivor’s social network may not be enough to attenuate the negative effects of their primary caregiver’s unsupportive behaviors. Accordingly, cancer survivorship research and practice must consider the critical role that negative caregiver responses have on survivors’ QoL and develop strategies that focus on the survivor–caregiver dynamic.

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The American Cancer Society (ACS) Studies of Cancer Survivors (SCS) were funded as an intramural program of research conducted by the ACS Behavioral Research Center. We wish to acknowledge the cooperation and efforts of the cancer registries and public health departments from the states of Arizona, California (Regions 2–6), Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nebraska, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Washington, and Wyoming. We also thank the staff of the hundreds of hospitals that reported cases to the participating cancer registries. Lastly, we are grateful to the thousands of cancer survivors, their physicians, and their loved ones who contributed to the collection of these data. The authors assume full responsibility for analyses and interpretation of these data.

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Correspondence to Alicia L. Best.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest. The corresponding author does not have full control of primary data analyzed in this manuscript. The data are owned by the American Cancer Society and were made available through a Collaborative Agreement between the American Cancer Society and the University of South Florida. If necessary, the journal may make a request to the American Cancer Society to review the primary data.

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Best, A.L., Shukla, R., Adamu, A.M. et al. Impact of caregivers’ negative response to cancer on long-term survivors’ quality of life. Support Care Cancer 29, 679–686 (2021).

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