Compounded trauma: a qualitative study of the challenges for refugees living with advanced cancer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


  • Sawsan Alajarmeh
  • Ghadeer Alarja
  • Waleed Alrjoub
  • Ayman Al-Essa
  • Lana Abusalem
  • Asem Mansour
  • Richard Sullivan
  • Omar Shamieh
  • Richard Harding

Colleges, School and Institutes


Background: Although palliative care is now an essential health service under Universal Health Coverage, ensuring access and appropriate care for refugees is a specific challenge for this large population.

Aim: To identify the needs and experiences of adult refugees in Jordan with advanced cancer and informal caregivers.

Design: A qualitative study using semi-structured interviews.

Setting/participants: Participants were purposively sampled at two Jordanian hospitals to achieve heterogeneity by age, gender, country of origin, and primary diagnosis.

Results: 29 refugees (22 patients, 7 caregivers) participated, and four themes were generated: 1) Psychological distress and sustaining social support. Refugees often experienced unmet psychosocial needs. However, psychosocial support was reported either absent or limited. 2) Knowledge and uncertainty. Lack of information and poor communication between healthcare providers and patients, which caused significant distress due to uncertainty. 3) Family anxiety and support roles. Being away from the home country cut patients and caregivers off from their wider social support network, which added increased anxiety and responsibilities to caregivers. 4) Compounded trauma and poverty. Many refugees have experienced trauma related to war that may affect their physical and mental health. They faced serious financial crises caused by the rising cost of medicines and treatment.

Conclusions: This study reveals the impact of fractured families and networks on social support in advanced cancer, and the compounding trauma of the disease for refugees. Detailed person-centred assessment and emphasis on psychosocial support is essential, and home-based care should not presume community support for patients to remain at home.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-11
JournalPalliative Medicine
Issue number00
Early online date26 Mar 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 26 Mar 2021


  • advanced cancer, experiences, Needs Assessment, palliative care, qualitative study, refugees