World Journal of Psycho-Social Oncology Volume No 6

Original Article Open Access

Stressors, Coping and Coping Strategies Among Young Adults with Cancer

Christina Snöbohm and Susanne Heiwe
World Journal of Psycho-Social Oncology 2013, 2:3



Research shows that young adults with cancer experience physical and mental changes that affect both their body image and their ability to cope with the situation. The purpose of this study was therefore to describe stressors, coping and coping strategies among young adults with cancer.

Study design

A qualitative interview study.

Material and methods

Setting: Swedish university hospital. Data was collected through semi-structured interviews until saturation (12 informants). The interviews were transcribed verbatim and analysed using a phenomenographic approach.


Four categories of stressors where identified: ’feeling physically ill’, ‘side-effects of the cancer treatment that caused negative wellbeing’, ’how can I have cancer when I have none or few symptoms from my body?’ and ‘feelings of psychological distress’. Identified coping styles were ‘physical exercise’, ‘seeking professional help’, ‘trying to regain control’, ‘finding new ways of thinking / acting’ and ‘seeking help from family and friends’. Coping strategies used were problem-focused, emotion-focused, meaning-based and social coping. The informants also used various forms of psychological defense mechanisms.


Young adults with cancer experienced stressors similar to older cancer patients but also specific stressors related to their youth based on a lack of previous experience of severe illness which is an important implication for health care personal. Physical exercise was identified as a coping strategy and further studies are needed to investigate if supervised physical exercise may increase internal locus of control and help young adults with cancer to cope better with their disease and cancer treatment.


Neoplasms, stress psychological, adaptation psychological, rehabilitation, qualitative research.

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