Purpose: The aim of this paper was to identify and explore the literature for key aspects of uncertainty experienced by patients who have been diagnosed with breast, prostate, or colorectal cancer.
Organizing construct: Throughout the cancer journey important decisions are made about treatments, symptom control, and supportive care and many approaches have been adopted to examine coping and uncertainty associated with a cancer diagnosis. Uncertainty and its associated attributes, such as stress or anxiety, fluctuate across the disease trajectory. To appreciate the changing nature of uncertainty one should consider its effect on specific patient groups by considering the available evidence.
Methods: A comprehensive literature search that was focused on reviews and studies about uncertainty in cancer patients was conducted in PubMed and CINAHL. In total, 40 articles were identified that indicated uncertainty in patients with breast, prostate, or colorectal cancer, although the emphasis in each differed according to the nature and treatment of the disease.
Findings: Uncertainty was found to comprise three main themes: uncertainty because of limited or lack of information, uncertainty concerning the course and treatment choices related to the disease, and uncertainty related to everyday life and coping with the disease.
Conclusions: Uncertainty influences patients' experiences of their cancer and their coping. Whilst it might be impossible to avoid uncertainty entirely, its negative effects might be ameliorated by understanding patients' specific needs along the disease trajectory of breast, prostate, and colorectal cancer.