Open Access Open Badges Study protocol

Cancer Carepartners: Improving patients' symptom management by engaging informal caregivers

Maria J Silveira12*, Charles W Given3, Kemp B Cease24, Alla Sikorskii5, Barbara Given3, Laurel L Northouse6 and John D Piette12

Author Affiliations

1 Center for Clinical Management Research, Veteran Affairs Medical Center, Ann Arbor, MI, USA

2 Department of Internal Medicine, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, USA

3 Center for Family Care, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI, USA

4 Division of Hematology & Oncology, Veteran Affairs Medical Center, Ann Arbor, MI, USA

5 Department of Statistics and Probability, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI, USA

6 School of Nursing, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, USA

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BMC Palliative Care 2011, 10:21  doi:10.1186/1472-684X-10-21

Published: 25 November 2011



Previous studies have found that cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy can effectively manage their own symptoms when given tailored advice. This approach, however, may challenge patients with poor performance status and/or emotional distress. Our goal is to test an automated intervention that engages a friend or family member to support a patient through chemotherapy.


We describe the design and rationale of a randomized, controlled trial to assess the efficacy of 10 weeks of web-based caregiver alerts and tailored advice for helping a patient manage symptoms related to chemotherapy. The study aims to test the primary hypothesis that patients whose caregivers receive alerts and tailored advice will report less frequent and less severe symptoms at 10 and 14 weeks when compared to patients in the control arm; similarly, they will report better physical function, fewer outpatient visits and hospitalizations related to symptoms, and greater adherence to chemotherapy. 300 patients with solid tumors undergoing chemotherapy at two Veteran Administration oncology clinics reporting any symptom at a severity of ≥4 and a willing informal caregiver will be assigned to either 10 weeks of automated telephonic symptom assessment (ATSA) alone,

10 weeks of ATSA plus web-based notification of symptom severity and problem solving advice to their chosen caregiver. Patients and caregivers will be surveyed at intake, 10 weeks and 14 weeks. Both groups will receive standard oncology, hospice, and palliative care.


Patients undergoing chemotherapy experience many symptoms that they may be able to manage with the support of an activated caregiver. This intervention uses readily available technology to improve patient caregiver communication about symptoms and caregiver knowledge of symptom management. If successful, it could substantially improve the quality of life of veterans and their families during the stresses of chemotherapy without substantially increasing the cost of care.

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