Objective: To describe the experiences of illness and needs and use of services in two groups of patients with incurable cancer, one in a developed country and the other in a developing country.
Design: Scotland: longitudinal study with qualitative interviews. Kenya: cross sectional study with qualitative interviews.
Settings: Lothian region, Scotland, and Meru District, Kenya.
Participants: Scotland: 20 patients with inoperable lung cancer and their carers. Kenya: 24 patients with common advanced cancers and their main informal carers.
Main outcome measures: Descriptions of experiences, needs, and available services.
Results: 67 interviews were conducted in Scotland and 46 in Kenya. The emotional pain of facing death was the prime concern of Scottish patients and their carers, while physical pain and financial worries dominated the lives of Kenyan patients and their carers. In Scotland, free health and social services (including financial assistance) were available, but sometimes underused. In Kenya, analgesia, essential equipment, suitable food, and assistance in care were often inaccessible and unaffordable, resulting in considerable unmet physical needs. Kenyan patients thought that their psychological, social, and spiritual needs were met by their families, local community, and religious groups. Some Scottish patients thought that such non-physical needs went unmet.
Conclusions: In patients living in developed and developing countries there are differences not only in resources available for patients dying from cancer but also in their lived experience of illness. The expression of needs and how they are met in different cultural contexts can inform local assessment of needs and provide insights for initiatives in holistic cancer care.