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‘I know I'm not invincible’: An interpretative phenomenological analysis of thyroid cancer in young people

Smith, S., Eatough, V., Smith, J. , Mihai, R., Weaver, A. & Sadler, G. P. (2018). ‘I know I'm not invincible’: An interpretative phenomenological analysis of thyroid cancer in young people. British Journal of Health Psychology, 23(2), pp. 352-370. doi: 10.1111/bjhp.12292


Objective. Thyroid cancer is one of the most common cancers affecting young people and carries an excellent prognosis. Little is known about the psychosocial issues that face young people diagnosed with a treatable cancer. This study explored how young people experienced diagnosis, treatment, and how they made sense of an experience which challenged their views on what it means to have cancer.

Method. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with eight young people diagnosed with either papillary or follicular thyroid cancer, and analysed with interpre- tative phenomenological analysis (IPA).

Results. Two inter-related aspects of their experience are discussed: (1) the range of feelings and emotions experienced including feeling disregarded, vulnerability, shock and isolation; (2) how they made sense of and ascribed meaning to their experience in the light of the unique nature of their cancer. A thread running throughout the findings highlights that this was a disruptive biographical experience.

Conclusions. Young people experienced a loss of youthful immunity which contrasted with a sense of growth and shift in life perspective. Having a highly treatable cancer was helpful in aiding them to reframe their situation positively but at the same time left them feeling dismissed over a lack of recognition that they had cancer. The young peoples’ experiences point to a need for increased understanding of this rare cancer, more effective communication from health care professionals and a greater understanding of the experiential impact of this disease on young people. Suggestions to improve the service provision to this patient group are provided.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: © 2018 The Authors. British Journal of Health Psychology published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of British Psychological Society This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License, which permits use and distribution in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, the use is non-commercial and no modifications or adaptations are made.
Publisher Keywords: illness perceptions; interpretative phenomenological analysis; psychosocial; support needs; thyroid cancer; young people
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences
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