Goals of work: Caregivers have become part of a triad of care and frequently attend patient consultations in the ambulatory cancer setting. Effective caregiving and decision making require that they understand the course of the disease and the changing treatment goals. This study sought to evaluate caregiver perception of treatment intent.
Patients and methods: A cohort of 317 subjects (181 patients and 136 caregivers) from The Canberra Hospital's Cancer Services were followed for 6 months. Caregiver understanding of patient treatment intent was measured over time together with sources of information.
Main results: Most caregivers understood that the illness was life-threatening (92% at week 12) and that treatment goals were to control illness and improve quality of life. Only half understood that treatment was noncurative (48% at week 12); 27% were unsure and 25% believed that treatment would cure. A high proportion of caregivers identified the specialist as the source of information (77%) and almost half also included the general practitioner (47%). These figures remained fairly constant over time. There were significant gender and age differences in understanding. At baseline, more women than men had an accurate perception of treatment intent and these numbers increased over time. Men's perception did not change.
Conclusions: Caregivers' ability to fully engage in the task of caring for those with a terminal illness may be hampered by their lack of understanding of the treatment patients receive.