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Perspectives on Coping Among Patients With Head and Neck Cancer Receiving Radiation

Mary Ellen Haisfield-Wolfe
Deborah B. McGuire
Sharon Krumm
ONF 2012, 39(3), E249-E257 DOI: 10.1188/12.ONF.E249-E257

Purpose/Objectives: To describe coping among patients with laryngeal and oropharyngeal cancer during definitive radiation with or without chemotherapy.

Research Approach: Qualitative content analysis conducted within a larger study.

Setting: Two radiation oncology outpatient clinics in Baltimore, MD.

Participants: 21 patients with oropharyngeal or laryngeal cancer.

Methodologic Approach: Interviews with open-ended questions were conducted during treatment. Questions covered topics such as coping during treatment, treatment-related issues, and resources.

Main Research Variables: Coping, treatment, and coping resources.

Findings: Patients' self-assessments suggested they were coping or that coping was rough or upsetting. Issues that required coping varied over four time points. Physical side effects were problematic during and one month after treatment completion. Patients used coping to manage the uncertainties of physical and psychological aspects of their experience. Family and friend support was a common coping strategy used by patients, with the intensity of side effects corresponding with the support provided across time points.

Conclusions: Findings confirm previous research, but also provide new information about ways in which patients with head and neck cancer cope with their illness experience. Emergent themes provide insight into patients' feelings, issues, and assistance received with coping.

Interpretation: Patients with head and neck cancer need education on the amount and severity of side effects and should be appraised of potential difficulties with scheduling, driving, and other logistic issues. Patients also should be informed of helpful types of support and coping strategies. Additional research is needed to expand the findings related to patients' coping with treatment and to explore the experiences of family and friends who provide social support.

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