Supportive Care

In cancer, supportive care is a term used to describe the services that might be need by someone affected by cancer.

It includes self-help and support, information, psychological support, symptom control, social support, rehabilitation, spiritual support, palliative care and bereavement care. Supportive care includes:

  • physical needs
  • psychological needs
  • social needs
  • information needs
  • spiritual needs.

As well as the medical team, support from family, friends, support groups, volunteers and community services make a vital contribution.

A supportive care program includes the services of professionals such as social workers, psychologists, family physicians, palliative care specialists, nutritionists, specialty nurses, physiotherapists, occupational or speech therapists, as well as community services and volunteers such as CanCare Navigators, who offer an important role in one-to-one support and practical aid.

Increases in the incidence of cancer and improved survival rates means more people now survive cancer. It’s great news.

For those effected by cancer, there are many challenges:

  • learning how to manage some of the longer term side effects of treatment,
  • rebuilding your life when treatment is finished;
  • fear of recurrence
  • finding practical & emotional support

Some cancer survivors may need

  • Supportive care
  • Improved health literacy
  • Healthy lifestyle advice: nutrition, diet, exercise

Themes of Unmet Needs

In 2015 Prof. Mary-Ann Burg identified a number of common ‘themes’:

  • Physical Needs. Those affecting the body, like pain, diet, exercise, rest.
  • Financial. Money, insurance, the affordability of needed services and products.
  • Education/information. Unanswered questions regarding what to expect as a cancer survivor.
  • Systems. Needs from the health care system, such as early detection, diagnosis, treatment, follow-up and continuity of care.
  • Resources. Needs related to availability of supplies, equipment, therapies, medications, or transport.
  • Emotional and mental health needs. Psychological issues such as fear (recurrence, mortality), depression, anxiety, negative feelings.
  • Social support. Access to support groups, helping others, participation in social situations
  • Communications. Talking and explaining cancer and the cancer experience with others – doctors, family, friends, employers.
  • Providers. Needs related to trust in health care providers, like decision-making, follow-through and support.
  • Cure. Hopes for a cure for cancer and of effective treatments for self and others.
  • Body image. Needs related to negative perception of body, such as feeling unattractive.
  • Survivor identity. Either identifying or not identifying as a cancer survivor because of dislike of the term “survivor”.
  • Employment. Need for a source of income that is appropriate given the cancer experience.
  • Existential. Attaining peace in life and making sense or gaining some meaning of the cancer experience.

Benefits to patients, teams and health services

An effective approach to providing supportive care can result in a number of benefits for those affected by cancer, their treatment teams and to the health system overall.

For those affected by cancer, the benefits are:
• A positive impact by reducing anxiety and depression, managing physical symptoms and increasing knowledge of the disease and treatment (NBCC and NCCI 2003)
Improved medical outcomes through better adherence to treatment including faster recovery, fewer post-hospital complications, enhanced self-care and greater ability to cope with difficult treatments. (Mumford et al 1982 as cited in Girgis and Boyes 2005)
Better decision-making, participation and satisfaction with care.

For the medical team and health services, benefits include:
• Greater patient satisfaction with the care received and reduced patient complaints (Thorne et al 2005)
Reduced stress for service providers with good communication skills (NBCC and NCCI 2003)
Reduced health care costs through the early identification and management of potential or actual supportive care needs in patients reduces the need for more intensive or specialist interventions (Girgis and Boyes 2005, Thorne et al 2005).


Join Our Mailing List