Living and dying with incurable cancer: A qualitative study on older patients' life values and healthcare professionals' responsivity

Jelle L.P. Van Gurp, Anne Ebenau*, Simone van der Burg, Jeroen Hasselaar

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Background: In ageing Western societies, many older persons live with and die from cancer. Despite that present-day healthcare aims to be patient-centered, scientific literature has little knowledge to offer about how cancer and its treatment impact older persons' various outlooks on life and underlying life values. Therefore, the aims of this paper are to: 1) describe outlooks on life and life values of older people (≥ 70) living with incurable cancer; 2) elicit how healthcare professionals react and respond to these. Methods: Semi-structured qualitative interviews with 12 older persons with advanced cancer and two group interviews with healthcare professionals were held and followed by an analysis with a grounded theory approach. Results: Several themes and subthemes emerged from the patient interview study: a) handling incurable cancer (the anticipatory outlook on "a reduced life", hope and, coping with an unpredictable disease) b) being supported by others ("being there", leaving a legacy, and having reliable healthcare professionals) and; c) making end-of-life choices (anticipatory fears, and place of death). The group interviews explained how healthcare professionals respond to the abovementioned themes in palliative care practice. Some barriers for (open) communication were expressed too by the latter, e.g., lack of continuity of care and advance care planning, and patients' humble attitudes. Conclusions: Older adults living with incurable cancer showed particular outlooks on life and life values regarding advanced cancer and the accompanying last phase of life. This paper could support healthcare professionals and patients in jointly exploring and formulating these outlooks and values in the light of treatment plans.

Original languageEnglish
Article number109
JournalBMC Palliative Care
Publication statusPublished - 20 Jul 2020


  • Advanced cancer
  • Life values
  • Older persons
  • Palliative care
  • Patient outlooks on life
  • Patient perspective


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