Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Prevalence and correlates of cancer survivors’ supportive care needs 6 months after diagnosis: a population-based cross-sectional study

Allison W Boyes1*, Afaf Girgis2, Catherine D’Este13 and Alison C Zucca1

Author Affiliations

1 Priority Research Centre for Health Behaviour, University of Newcastle & Hunter Medical Research Institute, Newcastle, Australia

2 Ingham Institute for Applied Medical Research, University of New South Wales, Liverpool, Australia

3 Centre for Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, University of Newcastle, Newcastle, Australia

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BMC Cancer 2012, 12:150  doi:10.1186/1471-2407-12-150

Published: 18 April 2012



An understanding of the nature and magnitude of the impact of cancer is critical to planning how best to deliver supportive care to the growing population of cancer survivors whose need for care may span many years. This study aimed to describe the prevalence of and factors associated with moderate to high level unmet supportive care needs among adult cancer survivors six months after diagnosis.


A population-based sample of adult cancer survivors diagnosed with one of the eight most incident cancers in Australia was recruited from two state-based cancer registries. Data for 1323 survivors were obtained by self-report questionnaire and linkage with cancer registry data. Unmet needs were assessed by the 34-item Supportive Care Needs Survey (SCNS-SF34). The data were examined using chi-square and multiple logistic regression analyses.


A total of 444 (37%) survivors reported at least one ‘moderate to high’ level unmet need and 496 (42%) reported ‘no need’ for help. Moderate to high level unmet needs were most commonly reported in the psychological (25%) and physical aspects of daily living (20%) domains. The five most frequently endorsed items of moderate to high unmet need were concerns about the worries of those close to them (15%), fears about the cancer spreading (14%), not being able to do the things they used to do (13%), uncertainty about the future (13%) and lack of energy/tiredness (12%). Survivors’ psychological characteristics were the strongest indicators of unmet need, particularly caseness for anxious preoccupation coping which was associated (OR = 2.2-5.9) with unmet need for help across all domains.


Unmet supportive care needs are prevalent among a subgroup of survivors transitioning from active treatment to survivorship, although lower than previously reported. In addition to coping support, valuable insight about how to prevent or address survivors’ unmet needs could be gained by examining the substantial proportion of survivors who report no unmet needs.