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Cancer Nurs. 2009 Jul-Aug;32(4):E8-E14. doi: 10.1097/NCC.0b013e31819f1aab.

Uncertainty during the transition from cancer patient to survivor.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Washington State University Vancouver, 14204 NE Salmon Creek Blvd, Vancouver, WA 98686-9600, USA.


This prospective study evaluated the impact that uncertainty has on quality of life as cancer patients end the active phase of their treatment. The transition from patient status to survivor may be a particularly important point in recovery because it may affect how much stress cancer survivors experience. Guided by a within-subjects design framework, 53 cancer patients (predominantly breast cancer) participated in the present study as they approached the end of adjuvant treatment and were followed for 4 months. Distress levels increased the further patients moved away from the end-of-active treatment; however, preceding these ascending scores of distress was a period characterized by little unrest-best described as a "honeymoon" phase. Using hierarchical linear modeling, greater uncertainty 1 month after treatment ended predicted more functional and physical impairment 4 months after the completion of adjuvant treatment. In both cases, uncertainty accounted for nearly 70% of the variance of these changes over time. A period of rest may emerge as active treatment ends, but that it is short-lived, particularly if uncertainty regarding health emerges. Furthermore, uncertainty may a represent a key mechanism (and target for intervention) during the transition from cancer patient to survivor.

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