Colorectal cancer (CRC) is the third most common cancer worldwide. However, qualitative research into CRC survivorship is limited. This paper aims to fill this gap through a systematic review (PROSPERO CRD42019131576) and thematic synthesis.
CINAHL, Embase, MEDLINE, PsycINFO, and PubMed were searched for qualitative CRC survivorship papers. Titles, abstracts, and full texts were screened. Included articles (n=81) underwent data extraction, CASP qualitative bias ratings, and thematic synthesis.
Thematic synthesis revealed that bowel dysfunction caused functional limitations and negative quality of life (QoL), while stomas posed threats to body image and confidence. Physical symptoms made return to work challenging, which increased financial burdens. Survivors’ unmet needs included desires for: information provision regarding symptom expectations and management, and ongoing support throughout follow-up and recovery. Advanced and early-stage survivors shared similar experiences, however advanced survivors reported struggling more with fear of cancer recurrence/progression and feelings of powerlessness. Functional limitations, financial impacts, and sexuality in advanced survivors were under-explored areas.
CRC and its treatments impact survivors’ QoL in all areas. A co-ordinated supportive care response is required to address survivors’ unmet needs. Future qualitative studies should explore advanced CRC subpopulations, treatment-specific impacts on QoL, and long-term (>5 years) impacts on CRC survivors.