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12.09.2018 | Review Article | Ausgabe 1/2019

Supportive Care in Cancer 1/2019

Do cancer patients use the term resilience? A systematic review of qualitative studies

Supportive Care in Cancer > Ausgabe 1/2019
Wei Son Tan, Lisa Beatty, Bogda Koczwara
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Electronic supplementary material

The online version of this article (https://​doi.​org/​10.​1007/​s00520-018-4456-y) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.



Resilience is a dynamic process of positive adaptation to adversity, including cancer. While the term is used frequently by researchers, controversy exists over its conceptualisation and little is known if and how cancer patients use the term resilience. We examined qualitative studies exploring cancer patient experiences/perceptions of resilience to understand: (a) definitions of resilience as identified by patients and researchers and (b) the themes relating to attributes of resilience as identified by patients.


Four electronic databases (MEDLINE, PsycINFO, SCOPUS, and CINAHL) were searched from database inception to November 2017, identifying qualitative studies of adult cancer patients/survivors which included resilience and cancer in the title, abstract, or medical subject headings. Articles were excluded if resilience was not a theme or outcome or was discussed primarily in the context of non-individuals. Thematic analysis was used to code studies and generate analytical themes, and a single author identified definitions of resilience within the studies.


Five hundred and seventy-three non-duplicate citations were screened, resulting in 65 citations screened for full-text review. Of these, 33 were excluded, leaving 32 studies. Four thematic categories emerged; coping strategies, social support, spirituality, and growth, within which 79 individual themes were identified. Eight researcher definitions and no patient definitions of resilience were identified.


This review found no cancer patient definitions of resilience and that cancer patients are seldom quoted using the term resilience directly, instead identifying coping strategies, social support, growth, and spirituality as attributes associated with resilience.

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