Towards a Stepped Care Model for Managing Fear of Cancer Recurrence or Progression in Cancer Survivors

Cancer Manag Res. 2021 Dec 1;13:8953-8965. doi: 10.2147/CMAR.S294114. eCollection 2021.


Background: Fear of cancer recurrence or progression (FCR) is common amongst cancer survivors and an important minority develop clinically significant levels of FCR. However, it is unclear how current clinical services might best support the growing numbers of cancer survivors.

Purpose: The aim of this study is to develop recommendations for future research in the management of FCR and propose a model of care to help manage FCR in the growing population of cancer survivors.

Methods: This is a narrative review and synthesis of empirical research relevant to managing FCR. We reviewed meta-analyses, systematic reviews and individual studies that had investigated interventions for FCR.

Results: A recent, well-conducted meta-analysis confirmed a range of moderately effective treatments for FCR. However, many survivors continued to experience clinical levels of FCR after treatment, indicating a clear need to improve the gold standard treatments. Accessibility of interventions is arguably a greater concern. The majority of FCR treatments require face-to-face therapy, with highly skilled psycho-oncologists to produce moderate changes in FCR. With increasing numbers of cancer survivors, we need to consider how to meet the unmet need of cancer survivors in relation to FCR. Although there have been attempts to develop minimal interventions, these are not yet sufficiently well supported to warrant implementation. Attempts to help clinicians to provide information which might prevent the development of clinically significant FCR have shown some early promise, but research is needed to confirm efficacy.

Conclusion: The next decade of research needs to focus on developing preventative approaches for FCR, and minimal interventions for those with mild-to-moderate symptoms. When evidence-based approaches to prevent FCR or manage moderate levels of FCR are available, stepped care approaches that could meet the needs of survivors could be implemented. However, we also need to improve existing interventions for severe FCR.

Keywords: FCR interventions; cancer; fear of cancer recurrence; fear of progression; oncology.

Publication types

  • Review