A qualitative study of the dimensions of patients' perceptions of facial disfigurement after head and neck cancer surgery

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Abstract

The study aim was to explore the underlying dimensions of patients' perceptions and experiences of facial disfigurement following surgery for cancer treatment, using a qualitative approach based on individual in-depth interviews. Data analysis and interpretation consisted of separating responses into phrases or statements with a single thematic aspect. Subsequently, a number of dimensions and categories were created using a deductive–inductive content analysis. Three main categories emerged: discovering of the cancer, coping with the disease and disfigurement, and reconstructing a new identity. The initial stage elicited feelings of fear, denial, and guilt as a reaction to the stigma and prejudice. Coping strategies included resignation and acceptance, deepening religiosity, reinforcement of familiar cohesion, and creation of a social network of solidarity and support. The final stage comprised incorporation of the altered facial image, rehabilitation possibilities, reconstruction of personality and self-image, and the feeling of having overcome the disease. It was concluded that individual experiences are complex, challenging, and have striking effects on their lives. There is an urgent need for training and improvement in human resources to manage these patients in a multidisciplinary approach, aimed at their reintegration into society and reducing the prejudice and stigma of the disease and disfiguration.

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