Fear of Cancer Recurrence, Health Anxiety, Worry, and Uncertainty: A Scoping Review About Their Conceptualization and Measurement Within Breast Cancer Survivorship Research

Front Psychol. 2021 Apr 12;12:644932. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2021.644932. eCollection 2021.


Objective: Fear of Cancer Recurrence (FCR), Health Anxiety (HA), worry, and uncertainty in illness are psychological concerns commonly faced by cancer patients. In survivorship research, these similar, yet different constructs are frequently used interchangeably and multiple instruments are used in to measure them. The lack of clear and consistent conceptualization and measurement can lead to diverse or contradictory interpretations. The purpose of this scoping review was to review, compare, and analyze the current conceptualization and measurements used for FCR, HA, worry, and uncertainty in the breast cancer survivorship literature to improve research and practice. Inclusion Criteria: We considered quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methods studies of breast cancer survivors that examined FCR, HA, worry, or uncertainty in illness as a main topic and included a definition or assessment of the constructs. Methods and Analysis: The six-staged framework was used to guide the scoping review process. Searches of PubMed, CINAHL, and PsycINFO databases were conducted. The principle-based qualitative analysis and simultaneous content analysis procedures were employed to synthesize and map the findings. Findings: After duplicate removal, the search revealed 3,299 articles, of which 82 studies met the inclusion criteria. Several critical attributes overlapped the four constructs, for example, all were triggered by internal somatic and external cues. However, several unique attributes were found (e.g., a sense of loss of security in the body is observed only among survivors experiencing FCR). Overall, findings showed that FCR and uncertainty in illness are more likely to be triggered by cancer-specific factors, while worry and HA have more trait-like in terms of characteristics, theoretical features, and correlates. We found that the measures used to assess each construct were on par with their intended constructs. Eighteen approaches were used to measure FCR, 15 for HA, 8 for worry, and 4 for uncertainty. Conclusion: While consensus on the conceptualization and measurement of the four constructs has not yet been reached, this scoping review identifies key similarities and differences to aid in their selection and measurement. Considering the observed overlap between the four studied constructs, further research delineating the unique attributes for each construct is warranted.

Keywords: cancer survivorship; conceptualization; fear of cancer recurrence; health anxiety; measurement; scoping review; uncertainty; worry.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review