Key messages

  • Supportive care in cancer refers to the physical, psychological, social, information and spiritual needs of those affected by cancer.
  • All members of the multidisciplinary team have a role in providing supportive care.

Supportive care in cancer is an umbrella term used to describe services that may be required by those affected by cancer. It includes self-help and support, information, psychological support, symptom control, social support, rehabilitation, spiritual support, palliative care and bereavement care. Supportive care in cancer refers to the following five domains:

  • physical needs
  • psychological needs
  • social needs
  • information needs
  • spiritual needs.

All members of the multidisciplinary team have a role in providing supportive care. In addition, support from family, friends, support groups, volunteers and other community-based organisations make an important contribution to supportive care.

Improving supportive care in Victoria

Supportive care is one of the four identified key priority areas for reform including care coordination, multidisciplinary care and reducing unwanted variation in practice.

The focus for improving supportive cancer care includes:

  • systematically identifying the supportive care needs of people affected by cancer by implementing routine supportive care screening
  • addressing supportive care needs – referral and linkages to appropriate services
  • building the capacity of the health system to identify and manage supportive care needs.

There are two statewide projects to address these priorities; the supportive care in cancer resource refresh and the supportive care screening prevalence study. 

Supportive care in cancer resource refresh

The supportive care in cancer resource refresh project led by the University of Melbourne set out to identify opportunities to refresh and develop supportive care resources and training materials, and to support and build workforce capability in strengthening and embedding supportive care in cancer across Victoria.

Phase I of the project involved a comprehensive, statewide, multidisciplinary and cross-sector consultation to identify priorities for refresh. Four priorities were identified for Phase II:

  • Review the language of supportive care to ensure a shared understanding across professionals and consumers, and develop consumer co-designed promotional materials to demonstrate the value of supportive care to multidisciplinary health care professionals across the sector.
  • Revise and refresh existing supportive care resources identified by community of practice participants, as relevant and valuable and identify an accessible online forum for housing the refreshed and new resources.
  • Create a consumer co-designed introductory supportive care in cancer education/training module defining what supportive care is and profiling consumer experiences and perspectives on communication and best practice supportive care.
  • Sustain a vibrant supportive care in cancer community of practice to support a statewide ongoing focus on supportive care and to inform and create potential for ongoing supportive care initiatives and innovation. 

Supportive care screening prevalence study

The Investigating practices relating to supportive care screening in Victorian cancer services project is a study of more than 600 recently diagnosed cancer patients across 21 Victorian health services.

The aims of the supportive care screening prevalence study were to:

  • determine the prevalence of supportive care screening actions delivered to the Victorian cancer population across inpatient and ambulatory settings
  • identify the resulting actions (i.e. referral, assessment, outcome) for those screened and not screened
  • determine how well the resulting actions meet the population needs
  • gain insight into the patient experience of having supportive care needs identified and addressed
  • establish oncology clinicians knowledge, experience and attitudes towards supportive care screening.

The full technical report for the study Investigating practices relating to supportive care screening in Victorian cancer services is available to download below.

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