Spirituality, Religiosity, and Spiritual Pain Among Caregivers of Patients With Advanced Cancer

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Caregivers of patients with advanced cancer often face physical, social, and emotional distress as well as spiritual pain. Limited research has focused on the spiritual aspects of caregivers’ suffering in the palliative care setting.


We interviewed 43 caregivers of patients with advanced cancer in our palliative care outpatient clinic. We determined demographic characteristics, religious affiliation, and relationship to the patient. Levels of spirituality, religiosity, and spiritual pain were self-reported using numeric rating scales (0 = lowest; 10 = highest). The participants completed various validated questionnaires to assess sleep disturbances, psychosocial distress, coping skills, and quality of life (QOL).


The median age was 52 years(range, 21-83); 29 (67%) were women, 34 (78%) were white, 7 (17%) were African American, and 2 (5%) were Hispanic; 39 (91%) were Christian, 1 (2%) was Jewish, and 1 (2%) was agnostic; 37(86%) were married; 18 (42%) were working full time; and 25(58%) were spouses. All considered themselves spiritual, and 98% considered themselves religious, with median scores of 8 (interquartile range, 6-10) and 8 (interquartile range, 4-9), respectively. All the caregivers reported that spirituality and religiosity helped them cope with their loved one’s illness, and many reported that spirituality and religiosity had a positive impact on their loved one’s physical (58%) and emotional (76%) symptoms. Spiritual pain was reported by 23 (58%), with a median score of 5 (interquartile range, 2-8). Caregivers with spiritual pain had higher levels of anxiety (median 10 vs 4; P = .002), depression (6 vs 2; P = .006), and denial (3 vs 2; P = .01); more behavioral disengagement (3 vs 2; P = 0.011) more dysfunctional coping strategies (19 vs 16; P < .001) and worse QOL (70 vs 51; P < .001) than those who did not have spiritual pain.


The majority of caregivers of patients with advanced cancer considered themselves spiritual and religious. Despite this, there is high prevalence of spiritual pain in this population. Caregivers with spiritual pain experienced worse psychological distress and worse QOL. These findings support the importance of spiritual assessment of and spiritual support for caregivers in this setting.

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