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Existential uncertainty in the patient cancer experience: delimiting the concept

Dwan, C. & Willig, C. ORCID: 0000-0001-9804-9141 (2022). Existential uncertainty in the patient cancer experience: delimiting the concept. Palliative and Supportive Care, 21(2), pp. 247-253. doi: 10.1017/s1478951522000104


Objective: To delimit the concept of existential uncertainty in the patient cancer experience from other, related aspects of uncertainty in the context of an existing framework of health-related uncertainty.

Methods: In-depth interviews were carried out with six people living with cancer, and analysed using theory-driven, concept-focused thematic analysis.

Results: Our analysis suggests that existential uncertainty is concerned with meaning rather than information; with the person rather than the disease; and with the fundamental nature of our human being-in-the-world rather than the more practical aspects of our relationships with others. Patient expressions of existential uncertainty may involve a non-scientific discourse of metaphor, analogy and imagination.

Significance of Results: It is important for professionals working in supportive oncology to have a conceptual understanding of uncertainty in order to choose how best to respond to patients’ needs, as different interventions may be more or less appropriate to different aspects of patient uncertainty.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: © The Author(s), 2022. Published by Cambridge University Press. This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution and reproduction, provided the original article is properly cited.
Publisher Keywords: existential; uncertainty; cancer; meaning; concept
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
R Medicine > RC Internal medicine > RC0254 Neoplasms. Tumors. Oncology (including Cancer)
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Psychology
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