The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the health behaviours of people living with and beyond breast, prostate, and colorectal cancer-a qualitative study

J Cancer Surviv. 2022 Jul 19;1-11. doi: 10.1007/s11764-022-01234-8. Online ahead of print.


Purpose: Positive health behaviours (sufficient exercise, healthy diet, limiting alcohol, and not smoking) can improve multiple outcomes after a cancer diagnosis. Observational studies suggest that health behaviours were negatively impacted for some but not all individuals living with and beyond cancer. The aim of this study was to qualitatively explore the impact of the pandemic on health behaviours of people in this population.

Methods: Thirty participants were purposively sampled for characteristics including diagnostic group (breast, prostate, and colorectal cancers), gender, time since diagnosis, and age. Semi-structured interviews were conducted to discuss the impact of the pandemic on health behaviours. Thematic analysis and a secondary Ideal Types analysis were conducted.

Results: Five themes covered changes in food, weight management, relationship to alcohol, and exercise. Five "types" were identified, representing orientations to health behaviours. The "gift of time" provided by the pandemic had an impact on health behaviours, with trends towards increases in drinking, eating unhealthy food, and exercising less.

Conclusions: The COVID-19 pandemic impacted engagement in positive health behaviours among participants in this study. Strict restrictions and changes in routines resulted in individuals adjusting how they managed their diet, alcohol intake, and exercise behaviours. The typology identified within this study helps to define how different orientation to health behaviours could underpin the responses of individual people LWBC.

Implications for cancer survivors: Alongside providing an understanding of the experiences of people LWBC during the COVID-19 pandemic, the proposed typology suggests how, with further development, future health behaviour interventions in this group could be targeted based on individual orientations to health, rather than demographic or clinical variables.

Keywords: COVID-19; Cancer survivorship; Health behaviours; Pandemic; Qualitative; Typology.