Personal growth during the experience of advanced cancer: A systematic review

Patricia I. Moreno, Annette L. Stanton*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


Over the past decade, research has documented the positive consequences individuals attribute to the experience of traumatic, life-threatening events, including enhanced life appreciation, improved social relationships, and a deepened sense of self and meaning. Despite evidence that individuals with cancer frequently perceive growth as a result of their experience, personal growth in the context of advanced cancer has received markedly less attention. In light of the unique challenges accompanying the experience of advanced cancer, the phenomenon of perceiving positive consequences and making meaning of the cancer experience (i.e., personal growth) may be distinct in patients with life-limiting disease as compared with more commonly studied early-stage cancer survivor samples. The purpose of this article was to review studies examining personal growth in adults diagnosed with advanced cancer to encourage medical professionals to consider and respond to their concerns around meaning within palliative care. We conducted a systematic review of the PubMed and PsycINFO electronic databases for studies examining personal growth in patients with advanced cancer published between January 1960 and January 2013. Of the 197 studies reviewed, 12 quantitative studies and 10 qualitative studies met criteria for inclusion. The review revealed that many patients with advanced cancer both cite finding meaning at the end of life as important and perceive positive consequences as a result of their experience. In comparison to early-stage cancer or benign disease, advanced cancer may serve to prompt higher levels of personal growth. However, these findings are mixed and may indicate a complex, nonlinear relationship between cancer prognosis and personal growth. The most promising candidates for promoting personal growth during advanced disease include younger adult age, spirituality, and psychosocial resources (optimism, marriage, and social support from close others and health care providers). Importantly, a co-occurrence of personal growth with both distress and well-being in advanced cancer suggests that personal growth in this unique context is characterized by perceived positive consequences in the face of considerable demands, which may be reflected by greater negative and positive markers of adjustment. Understanding and awareness of personal growth in individuals with advanced cancer may facilitate health care providers' ability to consider and respond to concerns around meaning and personal growth within palliative care, given the growing literature on psychosocial interventions for patients with advanced cancer. Integration of the existing research base with intervention development is an opportunity for future research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)421-430
Number of pages10
JournalCancer Journal (United States)
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2013


  • Personal growth
  • benefit finding
  • cancer
  • meaning making
  • neoplasms
  • neoplasms/psychology
  • posttraumatic growth
  • terminal care/psychology
  • terminally ill/psychology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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