Comparing cancer experiences among people with colorectal cancer: a qualitative study

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This paper reports on how people with colorectal cancer compare experiences, what comparison meant to them and the context in which it took place.


People with cancer need information to make sense of their disease and treatment, and comparing with others in similar situations provides such opportunities. While social comparison studies date back more than half a century, there is a lack of qualitative approaches to explore how people with cancer compare with others and the context in which they do so.


In-depth interviews were carried out in the period 2006–2007 with a convenience sample of 24 men and 14 women with a first diagnosis of colorectal cancer.


Most participants could not avoid the almost constant exposure to other people with cancer or hear of their stories, especially when they accessed health services. Comparison was part of their interaction with the ‘community’ of people with cancer, which included giving and receiving information and support. Many valued this ‘experiential’ information, while some tried to avoid contact with others with cancer as they felt that it would depress them. This study also showed that many of the participants had personal experience of caring for close relatives with cancer and this helped them to make sense of their own condition.


The challenge for health professionals is to help people with cancer to interpret the information and beliefs they already have from such previous experience or they obtain when comparing with others with cancer.

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