'I know I'm not invincible': An interpretative phenomenological analysis of thyroid cancer in young people

Br J Health Psychol. 2018 May;23(2):352-370. doi: 10.1111/bjhp.12292. Epub 2018 Jan 22.


Objective: Thyroid cancer is one of the most common cancers affecting young people and carries an excellent prognosis. Little is known about the psychosocial issues that face young people diagnosed with a treatable cancer. This study explored how young people experienced diagnosis, treatment, and how they made sense of an experience which challenged their views on what it means to have cancer.

Method: Semi-structured interviews were conducted with eight young people diagnosed with either papillary or follicular thyroid cancer, and analysed with interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA).

Results: Two inter-related aspects of their experience are discussed: (1) the range of feelings and emotions experienced including feeling disregarded, vulnerability, shock and isolation; (2) how they made sense of and ascribed meaning to their experience in the light of the unique nature of their cancer. A thread running throughout the findings highlights that this was a disruptive biographical experience.

Conclusions: Young people experienced a loss of youthful immunity which contrasted with a sense of growth and shift in life perspective. Having a highly treatable cancer was helpful in aiding them to reframe their situation positively but at the same time left them feeling dismissed over a lack of recognition that they had cancer. The young peoples' experiences point to a need for increased understanding of this rare cancer, more effective communication from health care professionals and a greater understanding of the experiential impact of this disease on young people. Suggestions to improve the service provision to this patient group are provided. Statement of contribution What is already known on this subject? Differentiated thyroid cancer has an excellent prognosis. Quality of life of thyroid cancer has marginally been explored in the literature. Little is known on the support needs of young people diagnosed with thyroid cancer. What does this study add? Increased understanding of how young people make sense and cope with thyroid cancer despite the lack of support resources. Addressing illness perceptions through improved information support may aid coping and adjustment. Insight into the needs of young people diagnosed with thyroid cancer and recommendations on service improvements.

Keywords: illness perceptions; interpretative phenomenological analysis; psychosocial; support needs; thyroid cancer; young people.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adult
  • Attitude to Health*
  • Emotions
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Life Change Events*
  • Male
  • Quality of Life / psychology
  • Thyroid Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Young Adult