Interpretation and acceptance of the term ‘cancer survivor’: a United Kingdom-based qualitative study

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Abstract

Interpretation and acceptance of the term ‘cancer survivor’: a United Kingdom-based qualitative study

The concept of cancer survivorship and the term ‘cancer survivor’ remains widely interpreted. The aim is to explore the interpretations of the term ‘cancer survivor’ amongst British people living past a cancer diagnosis. We conducted an in-depth qualitative study of 40 people at least 5 years post-diagnosis of breast, colorectal or prostate cancer. Each interviewee was asked whether they felt they were a cancer survivor and interpretations of the term were explored. The majority of respondents did not endorse the term ‘cancer survivor’, and there was a wide variation in its interpretation. Those who accepted the term understood survivorship as a factual definition of having had cancer and survived. Most rejected the term because it implied a high risk of death that did not reflect their experience, that it suggested survival from cancer was dependent on personal characteristics, or that it meant they were cured despite the possibility of recurrence. Respondents felt ‘cancer survivor’ was a label that did not describe their identity or that it implied an advocacy role they did not want to take on. Researchers and policy makers in the UK should consider avoiding the term ‘cancer survivor’ in favour of descriptive terms when discussing this population.

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