Spouses' experience of caregiving for cancer patients: a literature review


  • Declaration of Interest: The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

Correspondence address: Alice Yuen Loke, School of Nursing, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hung Hom, Kowloon, Hong Kong, China; Tel: +852-27666386; Fax: +852-23649663; E-mail: alice.yuen.loke@polyu.edu.hk.



The spouse is generally the primary informal caregiver for cancer patients. Many studies have explored the experience of caregiving for cancer patients, but it is unclear whether there are gender differences in the spousal caring experience for cancer patients.


This review describes the recent published research on the stress process of spousal caregiving experience for cancer patients, and aims to identify any gender differences in the caregiving experience.


Electronic, manual and author's searches were conducted. Articles included were published in English and Chinese, from January 2000 to March 2012. Study population is couples coping with cancer. Focus is on caregiving experience for spouse with cancer, and findings include both male and female spousal caregivers in quantitative studies. The databases searched included MEDLINE, CINAHL, Science Citation Index Expanded, Scopus, PsycINFO and the China Academic Journal Full-text Database. The key search terms used were ‘cancer’ or ‘oncology’ or ‘carcinoma’ AND ‘caregiver’ or ‘caregiving’ or ‘carer’ AND ‘gender differences’ or ‘gender’ AND ‘spouse’ or ‘couple’ or ‘partner’. Spousal caregiving experiences of cancer patients were explored by adopting the ‘stress process’ of the Cancer Family Caregiving Experience Model from the gender perspective.


Twenty-five articles were identified and included in this review. It was revealed that female spousal caregivers perceived higher level negative experience in caregiving, such as lower mental health, lower physical health, poorer health-related quality of life, lower life satisfaction and decreased marital satisfaction than male spousal caregivers. However, female spousal caregivers are more likely to experience personal growth than male spousal caregivers.


This review identified that female spousal caregivers for cancer patients had higher levels of negative experience in caregiving. A better understanding of the spousal caregiving experience will provide healthcare professionals with the information needed to develop interventions to support and prepare spousal caregivers to care for their loved ones with cancer.