Cancer Diagnosis Does Not Influence Patient’s Family Members To Change Their Lifestyle

First-degree relatives of cancer survivors may not change their lifestyle behaviors as a result of their family member’s diagnosis, but they may change their medical behaviors, a study suggests.

“These findings imply that healthcare organizations should consider what family members have to say about the lack of support and information made available for them, especially as individuals who are at a higher risk of developing cancer themselves,” the researchers wrote.

Nine biological relatives of cancer survivors were interviewed, including survivors’ children (n=6), siblings (n=2), and parents (n=1). Seven participants were female, and two were male, with ages ranging from 23 to 56 years. The most common cancer in the survivors was breast (n=4), and the time since the survivor was determined to be cancer free ranged from eight months to more than six years.

Four superordinate themes emerged from the semi-structured interviews, each with at least two accompanying subordinate themes:

  • Being conscious/aware
  • Limited lifestyle changes
    • Perception of existing healthy behaviors
    • Effort of making changes
    • Not letting fear dictate life
  • Psychosocial consequences of experience
    • Impact on family relationships
    • Impact on mental health
  • Unmet needs
    • Need for information
    • Need for support

Seven participants said they became more conscious and as a result began getting medical check-ups. “I sort of felt that blood tests and getting doctors involved was the, was the way to keep myself safe in that sense,” one participant said. Another participant commented that they were more likely to get a check-up if they were experiencing persistent physical symptoms. Eight participants said they became more aware of how their body changed with age, with one stating, “I’m probably more aware now that I’m, I’m older that maybe it’s something I need to be keeping an eye on for myself.” Seven participants each said the diagnosis affected their mental health and that they needed more support.

Only two participants openly discussed long-term lifestyle changes they implemented as a result of their family member’s diagnosis, such as diet and exercise. The remaining participants either didn’t discuss it or said they only made medical changes (or made no changes at all, in the case of one participant). Five participants said they perceived their current behaviors as healthy, which is why they did not make any active lifestyle changes.

The study was published in the April issue of the European Journal of Oncology Nursing.

“Taking these recommendations on board may not only lead to reduced cancer cases in first-degree relatives of cancer patients but may also lead to peace of mind for those who have already dealt with a great deal,” the researchers concluded.