Psychosocial aspects of adolescent cancer survival

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Abstract

Objective:

The purpose of this research was to examine the psychosocial status of adolescent cancer survivors and compare them with healthy peers. It has been suggested in previous research that the majority of survivors display equivalent levels of psychosocial functioning post-treatment as compared with healthy controls. However, despite successful treatment, survivors may have to adjust to living with a chronic illness and its associated late effects interspersed across the lifespan (e.g. infertility, cognitive deficits, heart complications). Whilst young people appear to have similar levels of psychosocial functioning, avoidance strategies such as denial may result in previous research findings being confounded and in underestimating the true psychosocial status of survivors. It is important to understand the psychosocial status of survivors in order to optimise their quality of life.

Methodology:

Coping mechanisms, anxiety levels and self-concepts of 32 adolescent cancer survivors, predominantly Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (ALL) were compared with 34 healthy adolescents (age range 12-17 years), via a mailout.

Results:

Survivors' self-reports suggest no overt psychological dysfunctioning. Whilst the two groups shared similar coping strategies, survivors were found to be less anxious than peers, with a tendency to employ avoidance strategies to deal with problems faced in adolescence. Age, gender and specific illness variables, such as age at diagnosis and time since treatment, were strong predictors of psychological outcome.

Conclusions:

Results can be interpreted as suggesting that whilst cancer survivors have a similar psychosocial profile to healthy peers, they are more likely to utilise avoidance strategies to manage problems.

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