Assessing the Psychological Impact of Cancer on Young Adults


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Background: 2,490 young adults are diagnosed with cancer per year in the United Kingdom. However, this population is often amalgamated with children or older adults within existing literature, as opposed to being examined as their own demographic. Limited evidence examines the impact of cancer on young adults on their mental health and identity.
Aim: To understand the psychological impact of cancer and survivorship on young adult survivors diagnosed in young adulthood.
Methodology: A pragmatic, mixed-methods approach utilising both quantitative and qualitative data collected in parallel from a purposive sample of young adults using questionnaires and semi-structured interviews.
Findings: Study 1 examined the prevalence of mental health symptoms in young adult cancer survivors using a systematic review. Ten articles were identified, suggesting cancer has a substantial impact on the mental health of young adults, as well as indicating the need for more research in this population. Study 2 found that 78.8% of the participant sample (n = 80) surpassed a base threshold score for post-traumatic stress symptoms, with 65% exceeding the threshold set for using the measure within a specialised medical clinic. 63.7% of participants experienced feelings of psychological distress concerning their cancer experience. Regression models indicated that certain aspects of the cancer experience could potentially predict cancer-related distress and mental health issues. Study 3 identified the cancer experience detrimentally affects the mental health of young adults into early survivorship. Some young adults integrated their cancer experience into their identity whilst others wanted to put distance between themselves and their experiences. Whilst most participants feel they have grown from their cancer experience, it is difficult to ascertain how much is due to having cancer or simply growing older.
Conclusions: This PhD addresses gaps in knowledge regarding how young adults experience cancer, how it affects their mental health and perceived self-identity post-treatment and how to improve support when transitioning to early survivorship. Recommendations for future research and practice are also reported.
Date of Award19 Mar 2024
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Edge Hill University
SupervisorDEREK LARKIN (Director of Studies), KATHERINE KNIGHTING (Supervisor) & ANDREW LEVY (Supervisor)


  • Cancer
  • Young Adult
  • Mental health
  • Identity
  • Psychological impact

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