Helping Cancer Survivors Overcome Their Fears

“Our research is revealing that young individuals, women and those who experience more physical symptoms at greatest risk of experiencing fear of cancer recurrence and this simply does not go away.” - Lauren Heathcote

Lauren Heathcote

Associate Professor, King's College, London

Fear of cancer recurrence is a normal and very common emotional reaction to finishing cancer treatment. For some this fear will gradually decrease over time, although some degree of fear may always remain. For others, fears about their cancer returning, or of developing a new cancer, can endure over time and can be severe enough to impact their quality of life. Fear of recurrence can also influence how individuals engage with healthcare after finishing cancer treatment, for example by making them avoidant of follow-up tests because of the anxiety that those tests cause, or by seeking excessive scans and testing for reassurance, which can also counterproductively increase anxiety.

Research has shown that fear of cancer recurrence is one of the top issues facing those living beyond cancer, and that psychosocial support for these fears is a primary unmet need. Our team is dedicated to understanding more about fear of cancer recurrence, including how it develops, why for some it persists over time, and who may be at greatest risk for experiencing it.

Our research is revealing that younger individuals, females, and those who experience more physical symptoms (e.g., pain, fatigue) are at greatest risk of experiencing fear of recurrence that endures over time and interferes with life. Physical symptoms such as pain may be a particularly powerful trigger for fears of recurrence by acting as a reminder of the previous cancer experience and by triggering concerns of recurrent disease.

Developing a better understanding of the factors that influence and trigger fears of recurrence can help us to develop better and more targeted psychosocial treatments to improve quality of life during survivorship. Our team is researching strategies that can be implemented when an individual finishes treatment, or even at diagnosis, to prevent fears of recurrence from becoming extreme and impairing, and ultimately to improve quality of life after cancer.

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