Illness Perceptions, Fear of Cancer Recurrence and Mental Health in Teenage and Young Adult Cancer Survivors

Mike Horwood, Maria Loades, Urska Košir, Cara Davis

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Background: The Common-Sense Model of illness self-regulation underpins illness-specific cognitions (including both illness perceptions and a fear of cancer recurrence; FCR). There is evidence in adults of associations between FCR, illness perceptions, and mental health in adult cancer survivors. However, there is limited empirical research examining these constructs within the developmentally distinct population of adolescent and young adult (AYA) survivors of cancer. The current study aimed to bridge that gap to inform potentially modifiable treatment targets in this population. Method: A cross-sectional, correlational design was used to examine the associations between illness perceptions, FCR, and mental health. A web-based survey was completed by a convenience sample of AYA survivors. Regression and mediation analyses were performed. Results: Overall, more negative illness perceptions were associated with more severe FCR and greater depressive and anxiety symptomatology. Higher FCR was predictive of worse overall mental health. More negative overall illness perceptions predicted the relationship between FCR–depression, mediating 24.1% of the variance. Contrastingly, overall illness perceptions did not predict or mediate the relationship between FCR–anxiety. However, the specific illness perceptions regarding timeline, personal control, and emotional representation, were predictive of the FCR–anxiety relationship. Discussion: Illness perceptions and FCR were predictive of mental health outcomes. Identifying and therapeutically targeting negative illness perceptions in those young adults who have survived adolescent cancer could therefore be a means of reducing anxiety and depressive symptomatology. Limitations and future directions are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)44-55
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Nursing
Issue number1
Early online date13 Nov 2023
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2024


  • adolescent/young adult
  • anxiety
  • cancer
  • depression
  • survivors

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics
  • Oncology(nursing)
  • Advanced and Specialised Nursing


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