Cancer Survivors’ Disability Experiences and Identities: A Qualitative Exploration to Advance the Cancer Equity

Susan Magasi*, Hilary K. Marshall, Cassandra Winters, David Victorson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Eliminating cancer-related disparities is a global public health priority. Approximately 40% of cancer survivors experience long-term effects of cancer which can lead to activity limitations and participation restrictions; yet discussions of disability are largely absent from clinical and research cancer health equity agendas. The purpose of this study was to explore how cancer survivors experience and make sense of the long-term disabling effects of cancer and its treatments. In this qualitative study, data were collected via in-depth semi-structured interviews with survivors of breast cancer, head and neck cancer, and sarcoma (n = 30). Data were analyzed thematically using a 2-phase iterative process proceeding from descriptive to conceptual coding. Survivors experienced a wide range of long-term physical, sensory, cognitive, and emotional effects, that intertwined to restrict their participation in self-care, work, leisure, and social roles. While the interaction between impairments and participation restrictions meets the definition of disability; participants articulated a range of responses when asked about their disability identity, including (1) rejecting, (2) othering, (3) acknowledging, and (4) affirming. Findings may be indicative of structural and internalized ableism which can impede cancer care and survivorship. To support cancer survivors’ transition to post-treatment life, cancer care providers should implement anti-ableist practices and engage in frank discussions about cancer’s long-term impacts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number3112
JournalInternational journal of environmental research and public health
Issue number5
StatePublished - Mar 1 2022


  • Ableism
  • Cancer equity
  • Cancer survivorship
  • Identity
  • Persons with disabilities
  • Qualitative methods
  • Stigma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Pollution
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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