Health Behaviors in Family Members of Patients Completing Cancer Treatment

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Purpose/Objectives:To describe the impact of the cancer experience on the health behaviors of survivors’ family members and to determine factors associated with family members’ intentions for health behavior change.Design:Descriptive, cross-sectional, correlational. Setting: A National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center in the midwestern United States.Sample:39 family members and 50 patients with diagnoses of breast, colorectal, head and neck, lung, or prostate cancer who were completing definitive cancer treatment.Methods:Patients and family members were approached in the clinic at three weeks or fewer before the completion of their course of treatment. Family members completed surveys and a structured interview in person or via telephone.Main Research Variables:Intention, perceived benefit, and confidence about eating a healthful diet, physical activity, and smoking cessation; emotional distress; and family cohesion, conflict, and expressiveness.Findings:Family members had high ratings for intention, perceived benefit, and confidence related to the behaviors of eating a healthful diet and performing 30 minutes of daily moderate-intensity physical activity. They also had high ratings for the extent to which the cancer experience had raised awareness of their cancer risk and made them consider undergoing screening tests for cancer; ratings were lower for making changes in their health behaviors.Conclusions:Family members expressed strong intentions to engage in health-promoting behaviors related to physical activity and nutrition at the post-treatment transition.Implications for Nursing:Oncology nurses are in a key position to engage family members and patients in behavior change. Nurses should assess family members at the completion of treatment for distress and provide interventions to influence the trajectory of distress in survivorship.

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