A qualitative exploration of the cancer experience among long-term survivors: comparisons by cancer type, ethnicity, gender, and age

Psychooncology. 2006 Mar;15(3):248-58. doi: 10.1002/pon.942.


Background: To elucidate meanings ascribed to the cancer experience by long-term survivors.

Methods: Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 58 cancer survivors (>15 years post-diagnosis). Respondents described how cancer affected their quality of life (QOL) generally and in 17 domains. Systematic content analyses were conducted to extract themes relating to meanings assigned to the cancer experience. Themes were analyzed by cancer type, gender, and age and confirmed using quantitative assessments of self-rated health and QOL.

Results: Four themes were identified: Personal Growth, That's Life. Relinquishing Control, and Resentment. Women more frequently acknowledged Personal Growth, and men more often indicated minimal impact on their lives (That's Life). Older survivors were disproportionately classified as That's Life and younger survivors as Personal Growth. No differences were observed by cancer type or ethnicity. Those who saw cancer as personal growth had the highest QOL, while those who resented cancer had the lowest QOL.

Conclusions: Most long-term survivors retrospectively report that cancer either positively influenced their lives or had little long-term impact. Those who express Resentment report that pain, physical deformities, and social isolation significantly reduced their QOL. This qualitative study highlights how cancer survivors incorporate the cancer experience within their overall lives.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Attitude to Health*
  • Ethnic Groups / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms* / classification
  • Neoplasms* / ethnology
  • Neoplasms* / psychology
  • Psychology
  • Quality of Life / psychology
  • Sex Factors
  • Survivors / psychology*
  • Time Factors