The salience of existential concerns across the cancer control continuum

Palliat Support Care. 2012 Jun;10(2):123-33. doi: 10.1017/S1478951511000745. Epub 2012 Mar 30.


Despite significant improvement in cancer survival, the fear of death still remains rooted in individuals' beliefs about cancer. Existential fears pertaining to cancer cut across the cancer control continuum and taint decisions related to prevention, screening, surveillance, and follow-up recommendations, as well as the overall management of cancer-related issues. However, individuals are innately predisposed to cope with their cancer-related fears through mechanisms such as reliance on the process of meaning making. To better appreciate the potential impact of existential concerns across the cancer control continuum, the Temporal Existential Awareness and Meaning Making (TEAMM) model is proposed. This tripartite model depicts three types of perceived threats to life related to cancer including a "social awareness" (i.e., cancer signals death), "personalized awareness" (i.e., I could die from cancer), and the "lived experience" (i.e., It feels like I am dying from cancer). This construal aims to enhance our understanding of the personal and contextual resources that can be mobilized to manage existential concerns and optimize cancer control efforts. As such, existential discussions should be considered in any cancer-related supportive approach whether preventive, curative, or palliative, and not be deferred only until the advanced stages of cancer or at end of life. Further delineation and validation of the model is needed to explicitly recognize and depict how different levels of existential awareness might unfold as individuals grapple with a potential, actual, or recurrent cancer.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Adult
  • Attitude to Death*
  • Attitude to Health*
  • Databases, Bibliographic
  • Existentialism
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / psychology*