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Being given a cancer diagnosis in old age: A phenomenological study.

  • Bente Appel Esbensen
  • Christine E Swane
  • Ingalill Rahm Hallberg
  • Bibbi Thomé
Publishing year: 2008
Language: English
Pages: 393-405
Publication/Series: International Journal of Nursing Studies
Volume: 45
Issue: 3
Document type: Journal article
Publisher: Elsevier

Abstract english


The aim of the study was to illuminate the lived experience of being given a cancer diagnosis in old age.


Little research has been done on the experience of elderly people developing cancer and the impact of the illness on their lives. Such knowledge is needed to support elderly people in dealing with issues arising after cancer is diagnosed.


A descriptive phenomenological method was used to investigate the phenomenon “the lived experience of being given a cancer diagnosis in old age”.


In total, 16 persons (aged 65+, mean age 76, range 68–83) with cancer were interviewed, all referred to the same oncology outpatient clinic in Copenhagen County.


Open-ended interviews were used to get a clear understanding of the experience of a cancer diagnosis in old age. Giorgi's phenomenological analysis was used.


The findings showed that the essential meaning of the lived experience was “Illness as a turning point marking old age”. This main essence was represented overall by three essences: “Illness means losing control”, “Disturbing the family balance” and “Life and death suddenly apparent”. These three essences were manifested through seven constituents: growing old in the context of illness, becoming a patient with cancer, everyday life being controlled by bodily limitations, managing family reactions, becoming conscious about dying and death through illness experience and retaining hope, and enjoying life.


It is important in clinical practice, to identify the specific meaning the turning point has for an elderly person with cancer, and to understand the particular approach he or she uses to handle the awareness of being old.


  • Nursing
  • Nursing care
  • Phenomenology
  • Giorgi
  • Cancer
  • Elderly
  • Lived experience


  • ISSN: 1873-491X
Ingalill Rahm Hallberg
E-mail: ingalill [dot] rahm_hallberg [at] med [dot] lu [dot] se

Professor emerita

Health-promoting Complex Interventions