Treatment-related travel for head and neck cancer can have significant practical and psychological impacts.

Head and neck cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer worldwide and can cause disfigurement, either directly or indirectly (as a result of medical treatment). It can lead to substantial problems with swallowing and speaking for patients. Caregivers of head and neck cancer patients can suffer psychologically.

A new study conducted by researchers at the Registry and the Department of Sociology at UCC explored the effect that treatment-related commuting has on carers of patients with head and neck cancer. The research was part funded by Health Research Board (HRB).

Carers were interviewed about their experiences of caring for patients undergoing treatment or follow-up for the cancer. The study found that treatment-related commuting had a considerable impact on carers of patients, both in practical terms (economic costs, disruption) and also in psychological terms. Many carers  described becoming distressed by their commute. Some carers from large urban cities appeared to have hidden commuting burdens. Other carers responded to commuting stress by ‘zoning out’ or becoming ‘like zombies’.

Treatment-related travel for head and neck cancer can have significant practical and psychological impacts. Health professionals should be aware of the impacts that commuting can have on head and neck caregivers. Health services may be able to take practical steps, such as providing subsidized parking, to address head and neck carers’ difficulties.

The study is published in the European Journal of Oncology Nursing.

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