Journal of Cancer Survivorship

, Volume 13, Issue 6, pp 852–889 | Cite as

A meta-review of qualitative research on adult cancer survivors: current strengths and evidence gaps

  • Rebekah Laidsaar-PowellEmail author
  • Stephanie Konings
  • Nicole Rankin
  • Bogda Koczwara
  • Emma Kemp
  • Carolyn Mazariego
  • Phyllis Butow



The number of qualitative studies exploring cancer survivor experiences has significantly increased in recent years, with a large number of systematic reviews now published. This meta-review (systematic review of systematic reviews) aimed to assess the evidence base—summarising existing qualitative findings and identifying gaps for further research.


Systematic reviews published from 1950 to 2018 were identified via database searches (MEDLINE, Embase, CINAHL, PsycINFO). Two authors assessed eligibility and extracted data. Review quality was assessed using the JBI Critical Appraisal Checklist for Systematic Reviews.


A total of 1465 titles were retrieved, and 60 reviews were included in the final review. All included reviews were conducted between 1998 and 2018. Whilst many reviews included mixed cancer types (21), the majority included only one cancer type (breast (19), gynaecological (10), prostate (5), haematological (2), colorectal (1), bladder (1) and melanoma (1)). Reviews focused on several survivorship topic areas including quality of life, experiences of survivors from ethnic minorities, returning to work and experiences of survivorship healthcare services. Less frequently reviewed topics included fertility, body image, coping strategies and spirituality.


This meta-review provides insight into the areas of research density and paucity. Breast and gynaecological cancer survivors are strongly represented. Gaps in synthesis include reviews for other common cancers (e.g. lung, colorectal, melanoma, haematological) as well as survivorship topic areas such as side/late effects, psychological issues, financial toxicity and health behaviours.

Implications for Cancer Survivors

Qualitative research into cancer survivor experiences can guide intervention development, as well as provide survivors with insight into the experiences and challenges faced by others with cancer.


Meta-review Systematic review Qualitative Cancer survivors 



We gratefully acknowledge the input provided by consumer representatives John Stubbs and Louise Bailey.

Funding information

This study was funded by a National Health and Medical Research Council Project Grant (APP1139539).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

Ethical approval

This article does not contain any studies with human participants performed by any of the authors.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Medical Psychology and Evidence-based Decision-making (CeMPED), School of PsychologyThe University of SydneyCamperdownAustralia
  2. 2.Research in Implementation Science and e-Health (RISe), Faculty of Health SciencesThe University of SydneyCamperdownAustralia
  3. 3.Flinders Centre for Innovation in Cancer, College of Medicine and Public HealthFlinders UniversityAdelaideAustralia
  4. 4.Cancer Research DivisionCancer Council New South WalesSydneyAustralia
  5. 5.Sydney School of Public Health, Faculty of MedicineUniversity of SydneySydneyAustralia

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