Caregiver Manual Offers Tips on Caring for Cancer Patients

Researchers created a simple, three-visit intervention to assist caregivers of cancer patients who are in hospice because of advanced cancer. Part of the intervention includes a manual called "The American College of Physicians Home Care Guide for Advanced Cancer: When quality of life is the primary goal of care."

The revised manual includes tips that caregivers can use to help relieve their family member's pain, shortness of breath, and other symptoms. In the chapter on cancer pain, there are some of the tips about the five ways to relieve pain resulting from cancer. Included in this section are suggestions for managing the more common side effects of pain medicine. The excerpt below provides a sample look of the tips in the following section:

Manage the more common side effects of pain medicine

• Prevent constipation with stool softeners and laxatives.

Narcotics are dehydrating. They take water from the stool, which results in constipation. Stool softeners are pills that put the water back in, making the stool softer and easier to pass. Some people take one or two stool softeners in the morning and one or two at bedtime to prevent the problem.

If stool softeners and laxatives do not work and the patient has not had a bowel movement in 2 or 3 days, give a product that is purely a laxative, such as Milk of Magnesia. You also may have to increase the number of stool softeners and stimulants taken each day. One Dulcolax rectal suppository every day can be very helpful. Problems with constipation mean that you need the help of hospice workers. If your family does not have help from a hospice, call the pain clinic or hospital and ask for a referral. These staff members know how to solve problems of constipation and pain, and they will help you with many aspects of caring at home for someone who has advanced cancer.

• Relieve a dry mouth with crushed ice, hard candy, and frequent rinses with water or products that do not contain alcohol.

• Relieve painful, dry nasal passages by humidifying the air or breathing in moisture from a sink full of warm water.

• Avoid an upset stomach by taking medicine with food or antacids unless instructed otherwise.

• Expect drowsiness for a few days when pain medicine is started or increased.

If sleepiness increases just after starting or increasing pain medicine, wait about 3 days. Sometimes sleepiness happens because a person is finally getting relief from his or her pain and needs to catch up on missed rest, or the body just needs time to adjust to new medicines or doses.