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Healthcare Professionals' Response to Cachexia in Advanced Cancer: A Qualitative Study

Claire Millar
Joanne Reid
Sam Porter
ONF 2013, 40(6), E393-E402 DOI: 10.1188/13.ONF.E393-E402

Purpose/Objectives: To explore healthcare professionals' experience, understanding, and perception of the needs of patients with cachexia in advanced cancer.

Research Approach: A qualitative approach based on symbolic interactionism.

Setting: A regional cancer center in a large teaching hospital in the United Kingdom.

Participants: 34 healthcare professionals who had experience providing care to patients with cachexia in advanced cancer.

Methodologic Approach: Data collection consisted of two phases: focus group and semistructured interviews. Interviews were digitally recorded and transcribed verbatim for analysis. This article reports on findings from the second phase of data collection.

Findings: Analysis revealed that professional approaches to cachexia were influenced by three overarching and interthinking themes: knowledge, culture, and resources. Healthcare professionals commonly recognized the impact of the syndrome; however, for nonpalliative healthcare professionals, a culture of avoidance and an overreliance on the biomedical model of care had considerable influence on the management of cachexia in patients with advanced cancer.

Conclusions: Cachexia management in patients with advanced cancer can be difficult and is directed by a variable combination of the influence of knowledge, culture of the clinical area, and available resources. Distinct differences exist in the management of cachexia among palliative and nonpalliative care professionals.

Interpretation: This study presented a multiprofessional perspective on the management of cachexia in patients with advanced cancer and revealed that cachexia is a complex and challenging syndrome that needs to be addressed from a holistic model of care.

Knowledge Translation: Cachexia management in patients with advanced cancer is complex and challenging and is directed by a combination of variables. An overreliance on the biomedical model of health and illness occurs in the management of cachexia in patients with advanced cancer. Cachexia needs to be addressed from a holistic model of care to reflect the multidimensional needs of patients and their families.

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