Bereaved Caregivers Perspectives of Negative Communication Experiences Near the End of Life for Adolescents and Young Adults with Cancer

Bryan A. Sisk, Megan A. Keenan, Ginny L. Schulz, Marie Bakitas, Erin R. Currie, Stephanie Gilbertson-White, Lisa C. Lindley, Eric J. Roeland, Jennifer W. Mack

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: High-quality communication is a standard of palliative care for adolescents and young adults (AYAs) with cancer. Yet, few studies have characterized the negative communication experiences of AYAs near the end of life (EOL). Methods: We performed a secondary analysis of 27 qualitative interviews with bereaved caregivers of AYAs with cancer who died between 2013 and 2016 at 1 of 3 sites. Interviews focused on barriers to optimal EOL care for AYAs. We used thematic analysis using iterative consensus coding to analyze transcripts. Results: Participants were predominantly white (85%), non-Hispanic (93%), and female (74%). Half of the participants were bereaved parents, and 37% were bereaved partners or spouses. Overall, 23/27 (85%) caregivers described at least one negative communication experience related to one of three themes: (1) Insensitivity to patients' needs, preferences, and values; (2) Insufficient discussions of prognosis and/or EOL; and (3) Loss of support from the clinical team near EOL. Both clinician- and patient-related factors contributed to limited EOL discussions. Lack of care continuity related to both clinician factors and systems of care that required new or changing clinical care teams near the EOL. Conclusions: Caregivers report a desire for clinician sensitivity to their needs and values, information about the future, and longitudinal connections with individual clinicians. Clinicians might improve caregivers' EOL experiences by eliciting patient preferences, engaging in EOL discussions, adapting to the AYA's developmental and emotional needs, and demonstrating a commitment to AYAs and caregivers as they approach the EOL.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)498-505
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of adolescent and young adult oncology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 1 2022


  • adolescent and young adult
  • cancer
  • communication
  • end of life
  • palliative care
  • physician-patient relationship


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