4.5.1 Supportive care

See validated screening tools mentioned in Principle 4 ‘Supportive care’.

A number of specific challenges and needs may arise for patients at this time:

  • assistance for dealing with emotional and psychological issues, including body image concerns, fatigue, quitting smoking, traumatic experiences, existential anxiety, treatment phobias, anxiety/depression, interpersonal problems and sexuality concerns
  • potential isolation from normal support networks, particularly for rural patients who are staying away from home for treatment
  • management of physical symptoms such as pain, fatigue, cough, breathlessness and halitosis
  • physical distress caused by breathlessness and coughing, which may be alleviated through a referral to allied health professionals (physiotherapy, occupational therapy, exercise physiologist or pulmonary rehabilitation); non-pharmacological strategies may be beneficial in breathlessness management (CareSearch 2019a) (note: if oxygen is medically indicated, this can be arranged through the relevant state aids and equipment program)
  • hoarseness may require referral to a speech therapist or ENT specialist
  • halitosis, which can occur if there is a necrotic tumour in the oropharynx or the lungs – patients need to be alerted to possible symptoms and what to do
  • haemoptysis (CareSearch 2019b) – ensure patients understand how to manage haemoptysis and obtain medical support
  • managing and taking medications – referral to a pharmacist may be required
  • decline in mobility or functional status as a result of treatment
  • assistance with beginning or resuming regular exercise with referral to an exercise physiologist or physiotherapist (COSA 2018; Hayes et al. 2019).

Early involvement of general practitioners may lead to improved cancer survivorship care following acute treatment. General practitioners can address many supportive care needs through good communication and clear guidance from the specialist team (Emery 2014).

Patients, carers and families may have these additional issues and needs:

  • financial issues related to loss of income (through reduced capacity to work or loss of work) and additional expenses as a result of illness or treatment
  • advance care planning, which may involve appointing a substitute decision-maker and completing an advance care directive
  • legal issues (completing a will, care of dependent children) or making an insurance, superannuation or social security claim on the basis of terminal illness or permanent disability.

Cancer Council’s 13 11 20 information and support line can assist with information and referral to local support services. Quitline 13 78 48 can provide information and support to quit smoking.

For more information on supportive care and needs that may arise for different population groups, see A and B, and special population groups.