November is National Family Caregivers Month. Caregivers play an important role in cancer patients’ care. They provide invaluable physical, practical, and emotional support for their loved ones throughout treatment. Caregivers deserve a huge thank you. Keep reading to learn more about cancer caregivers by the numbers.
How many cancer caregivers are there in the U.S.?
- An estimated 43.5 million adults in the United States have provided unpaid care to an adult or a child in the prior 12 months.
- Of caregivers surveyed, 7% indicated that a cancer diagnosis was the main reason the recipient needed care. That’s over 3 million cancer caregivers in the U.S.
What does the average caregiver for an adult with cancer look like?
The National Alliance for Caregiving, in partnership with the National Cancer Institute and the Cancer Support Community, surveyed cancer caregivers for adult patients to learn more about who cancer caregivers are and the specific challenges they face.  According to the results of the survey
- 58% of cancer caregivers are women.
- The average age of a cancer caregiver is 53 years old.
- 88% provide care to a relative.
- 60% provide care to someone 65 or older.
What does providing care for an adult with cancer entail?
A caregiver’s responsibilities depends on the specific situation. What is the patient’s diagnosis? What treatment will the patient receive? How was the patient’s health prior to diagnosis? Caregiving can involve many different responsibilities including
- Driving to appointments
- Shopping for groceries
- Preparing food
- Changing bandages or caring for medical equipment
- Supervising medications
- Managing financial and legal affairs
- Communicating with the healthcare team.
As treatment progresses, the caregiver may take on more responsibilities, especially if the patient experiences side effects. After treatment, the patient may feel better and need less care. According to the results of the survey
- Cancer caregivers provide care for 1.9 years on average.
- Cancer caregivers spend on average 32.9 hours a week providing care. (Almost a full-time job.)
- 19% of cancer caregivers took a leave of absence from work to provide care.
- 72% of cancer caregivers assist with medical/nursing tasks.
What is the impact of providing care on the caregiver?
Providing care to a loved one with a cancer diagnosis is a difficult job. In addition to the physical and practical demands of providing care, it can be emotionally difficult to see a loved one unwell or in pain. While focusing on the patient’s needs, many caregivers neglect to care for themselves. According to the survey
- 50% of cancer caregivers feel high levels of emotional distress.
- 25% of cancer caregivers feel high levels of financial strain due to caregiving responsibilities.
Where can caregivers turn for support?
The best thing a cancer caregiver can do to lighten the load is to ask for help and to accept help. For some caregivers, this is easier said than done. However, there are likely friends and family members who want to lend a hand, but they may not know how or what needs to be done.
If you are a cancer caregiver, reach out to these people in your community. Create a list of specific tasks such as grocery shopping, meal preparation, or laundry that you can delegate to others. Use technology such as CaringBridge or Lotsa Helping Hands to coordinate volunteers.
Accept help when it’s offered. Allow yourself time to rest and recuperate. Don’t feel guilty about taking time for yourself. After all, you can’t pour from and empty cup.
If you know a cancer caregiver, offer to help. It’s best to offer your assistance with a specific task. A general offer to help may be too easy for the caregiver to turn down even if he or she would benefit from your help. Ask the caregiver what needs to be done or suggests tasks yourself, such as driving the patient to an appointment, bringing over dinner, or picking kids up from school.
Resources for Caregivers
 National Alliance for Caregiving, in partnership with the National Cancer Institute and the Cancer Support Community. Cancer Caregiving in the U.S.: An Intense, Episodic, and Challenging Care Experience. (June 2016). Available online. Last accessed October 3, 2018.