Objective: To systematically review the literature on the severity and risk factors for loneliness in adult cancer patients.
Methods: We systematically reviewed quantitative studies addressing loneliness in cancer patients. Exclusion criteria were absence of a validated loneliness questionnaire, and studies that focused on loneliness determined by specific circumstances, and not cancer in general (e.g. appearance concerns, cultural and language barriers, requiring palliative care). We searched PsycINFO, CINAHL, Embase, Cochrane Library, and Pubmed in compliance with the predefined in- and exclusion criteria. The search, quality appraisal, and data extraction were performed by two independent reviewers. Weighted mean scores were calculated by using random effects adjusted inverse variance weighting.
Results: We included 15 studies. In 13 studies the UCLA loneliness scale was used (range 20-80; higher scores indicate higher loneliness). The weighted mean loneliness score was 38.26 (95% CI: 35.51-41.00), which corresponds to moderate loneliness. Time since diagnosis was positively associated with degree of loneliness. Other cancer-related factors, such as cancer site, treatment type, or stage of disease were not associated with loneliness. The non-cancer related determinants of loneliness in cancer patients that emerged from our review were being unmarried (people who have never been married, are widowed or divorced), and lack of psychological or social support.
Conclusion: Our findings suggest that the level of loneliness rises with increasing time after cancer diagnosis. Furthermore, social functioning emerged as a consistent theme, for which it was shown that lack of social support was associated with increasing levels of loneliness.
Keywords: Loneliness; Meta-analysis; Neoplasms; Oncology; Risk factor; Systematic review.
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