Survivor identity after colorectal cancer: antecedents, prevalence and outcomes

Psychooncology. 2012 Sep;21(9):962-9. doi: 10.1002/pon.1991. Epub 2011 May 24.


Objective: Cancer survivor identity has become a dominant paradigm in describing people with cancer and in driving the focus of programmes and research in supportive care. This study investigated antecedents of survivor identity adoption and population-based prevalence.

Methods: A prospective survey of a population-based sample of 1966 (57% response) patients with colorectal cancer assessed socio-demographic variables, health behaviours, optimism, benefit finding, cancer threat appraisal, psychological distress and satisfaction with life at 5 months post-diagnosis as predictors of survivor identity 5 years subsequently. Prevalence of survivor identity at 5 years post-diagnosis and psychological and lifestyle outcomes (n = 786) were later assessed.

Results: Fifty-five per cent of people identified as a cancer survivor, 39.4% as a person who had had (or has) cancer, 1.4% as a cancer patient and 1.2% as a cancer victim. People who were older and who reported higher personal growth after diagnosis were more likely to assume a survivor identity at 5 years. At 5 years, survivors had higher benefit finding and better satisfaction with life. Cancer survivors uniquely reported a significant decrease in somatization and acceptance, and increases in satisfaction with life and physical activity over time.

Conclusions: For patients with colorectal cancer, the cancer survivor identity is common but not universal 5 years after diagnosis; and may evolve from looking for benefit after cancer through personal growth. People who adopt a cancer survivor identity report more positive adjustment outcomes after cancer and this has implications for the design of clinical and community support interventions. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Australia / epidemiology
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Life Style
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care
  • Personal Satisfaction
  • Population Surveillance
  • Prevalence
  • Prospective Studies
  • Quality of Life / psychology
  • Self Concept*
  • Sickness Impact Profile
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Survivors / psychology*
  • Survivors / statistics & numerical data
  • Telephone
  • Young Adult