The environment can simultaneously be the source of the greatest distress and the greatest support to an individual. This is a challenging proposition for cancer service delivery as it emphasises the significance of the social context on recovery. We would like to report on the results of a retrospective audit of the contribution of social capital and social networks to survivorship outcomes in 100 patients receiving treatment for a diagnosis of cancer at the Austin Hospital, Melbourne Australia. We used the National Coalition definition for Cancer Survivorship as “Individuals with cancer from the time of diagnosis and for the balance of life including family, friends and caregivers”.
A retrospective study of N=100 consecutively referred patients to Social Work were analysed using Clinical Data Mining Methodology ( Epstein 2004).
An audit tool was developed and data analysed in relation to demographic variables, the supportive care screening tool and domains of social capital (carers, finance, family and interpersonal relationships) The quantitative data was descriptively and inferentially analysed while all qualitative content was coded using a thematic networks framework ( Atrride-Stirling 2001)
A significant relationship was found between scores of emotional distress (depression, anxiety, worry) and financial issues, lack of carer support and poor interpersonal relationships ( P=0,02) Financial issues represented the highest level of social stress ( including the inability to participate in paid employment, inflexible work arrangements, pre-morbid financial stress, complexities and delays in accessing income maintenance, and the need to provide for dependants. ) Interpersonal and family relationships provided the highest level of support while carer issues were predominantly stressful with support experienced where there were deeply meaningful relationships.
This results of this study suggest key social network and social context interventions that support the importance of including broader social variables as part of the clinical service offered in cancer care as key components of the patient experience.