Trajectories and predictors of stress and depressive symptoms in spousal and intimate partner cancer caregivers

Qi Chen, Lauren Terhorst, David A. Geller, Wallis Marsh, Michael Antoni, Mary Amanda Dew, Michelle Biala, Josh Weinstein, Allan Tsung, Jennifer Steel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: The objective of the study is to investigate trajectories of stress and depressive symptoms of spousal and intimate partner caregivers in the context of cancer. We also examined the patient-related predictors of caregiver stress and depression. Design: This is a longitudinal cohort study. Participants: Patients diagnosed with cancers affecting the hepatobiliary and pancreatic system and their spousal or intimate partner caregivers were recruited at a large tertiary cancer center. Methods: The patients and caregivers were assessed for their level of stress, depressive symptoms, relationship quality, and quality of life at the time of the patients’ diagnosis, every 2 months for 12 months and then at 18 months. Findings: One hundred and seventy-nine caregivers were included in the trajectory analyses. Amongst the 179 caregivers, 120 patient and caregiver dyads had complete data at baseline to 6-months. The majority of the spousal caregivers were female (84%) and the mean age was 57 years. 25% of caregivers reported high levels of chronic depressive symptoms. However, significant reductions were observed at 6 months. High and moderate levels of caregiver stress were also reported in 21% and 36% of caregivers, respectively. The caregivers who reported moderate levels of stress had a decrease in stress over time while those in the high stress group reported stable levels of stress over time. Caregivers’ stress is predicted by the cancer patients’ depressive symptoms but not patients’ quality of life. Conclusions: Caregivers who reported high levels of stress and depressive symptoms at patients’ cancer diagnosis remain high even after the initial adjustment. A bidirectional relationship between the caregivers’ stress and the patients’ depressive symptoms was observed. Implications: The development of dyadic interventions focusing on the patients’ and caregivers’ distress is warranted to decrease psychological morbidities of the dyad.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)527-542
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Psychosocial Oncology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2 2020


  • cancer caregiver
  • depression
  • dyadic functioning
  • quality of life
  • stress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Applied Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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