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Clinical guidance for responding to suffering in adults with cancer

Methodology of systematic review

A systematic review, Conceptualisation, assessment and interventions to alleviate suffering in the cancer context2 was undertaken by the Psycho-oncology Co-operative Research Group (PoCoG) for Cancer Australia. This review focused on the conceptualisation of suffering in cancer patients; assessment of suffering in cancer patients; and interventions aimed at the relief of suffering in cancer patients.

A search of the literature published between 1992 and 2012 was undertaken using electronic databases. The primary search included peer-reviewed articles published in the English language related to suffering in adults diagnosed with cancer and reporting on outcomes relevant to the following questions, which were developed by a multidisciplinary steering committee:

  1. What are the current conceptualisations of suffering in people diagnosed with cancer?
  2. What instruments/tools are available to assess the suffering of people diagnosed with cancer?
  3. What interventions have been demonstrated to be effective in dealing with the suffering of people diagnosed with cancer?

The searches resulted in the inclusion of 125 articles conceptualising suffering; 90 articles reporting on the instruments/tools available to assess suffering, its synonyms, and/or its symptoms; and 42 articles evaluating the effectiveness of interventions to alleviate the suffering of people diagnosed with cancer.

The systematic review provided the evidence base for this guidance and was further supplemented by the clinical expertise of Cancer Australia's Cancer suffering and spirituality issues multidisciplinary working group.

This guidance provides further information and vignettes relating to four key areas for healthcare professionals to consider in relation to suffering in adults affected by cancer:

  1. The importance of responding to suffering
  2. Identifying suffering
  3. Responding to suffering
  4. Care coordination, referral and interventions.

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