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09.11.2018 | Review

Unpacking the layers: a meta-ethnography of cancer survivors’ loneliness

Journal of Cancer Survivorship
Trisha L. Raque-Bogdan, Brooke Lamphere, Marisa Kostiuk, Maura Gissen, Megan Beranek
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Electronic supplementary material

The online version of this article (https://​doi.​org/​10.​1007/​s11764-018-0724-6) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.

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To review the empirical qualitative literature on cancer survivor’s experiences with loneliness to inform assessments and interventions for improving cancer survivors’ social well-being.


A rigorous systematic review of qualitative studies published in five databases between 1993 and 2016 was conducted. Three coders reviewed 285 titles and abstracts and, after applying a critical review process, 20 manuscripts were synthesized using meta-ethnography.


The synthesis of the 20 studies provided a framework for understanding survivors’ layers of loneliness at the level of the individual, their social support system, the healthcare system, and society. Internally, survivors described loneliness resulting from feelings of inauthenticity, of being alone in their cancer experience, and of lack of control. In their social networks, survivors attributed loneliness to others’ avoidance, misperceptions of cancer, and others’ failure to recognize the effects of cancer after active treatment. Unmet needs after treatment contributed to feelings of loneliness within the healthcare system. Further, societal stigma around cancer and pressures to experience growth after cancer created another layer of loneliness. The results suggest the need to move beyond an individual level perspective in assessing and treating loneliness in cancer survivors.


This meta-ethnography presents an integrated framework of loneliness in cancer survivors as a multi-layered experience. Implications for Cancer Survivors Conceptualizing loneliness from a systemic perspective adds missing pieces to the loneliness puzzle by encouraging assessment and intervention at interacting levels of functioning; considering how individuals respond to and are affected by their social systems can deepen our understanding of cancer survivorship.

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