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Correlates of the positive psychological byproducts of cancer: Role of family caregivers and informational support

  • Kristin Litzelman (a1), Danielle Blanch-Hartigan (a2), Chun Cheih Lin (a3) and Xuesong Han (a3)



Experiencing a life-threatening illness such as cancer can elicit both negative (e.g., distress) and positive (e.g., growth) psychological responses. The present study sought to determine the correlates of four positive psychological byproducts in cancer survivors: becoming a stronger person, coping better with life's challenges, making positive changes in life, and adopting healthier habits.


Data for this cross-sectional study were taken from the Medical Expenditures Panel Survey (MEPS) Experiences with Cancer Survivorship Supplement (Yabroff et al., 2012). Cancer survivors (N = 785) reported their sociodemographic and cancer-related characteristics. Descriptive statistics were utilized to summarize cancer survivor characteristics, including demographic factors, cancer factors, and stressors and resources related to cancer. Multivariable logistic regressions were employed to assess the independent association of the stressors and resources with each psychological response, controlling for covariates. All analyses were weighted to account for the complex sampling design of the MEPS.


In multivariable analyses, those with a family caregiver were 50% more likely to report better coping with challenges, and around 70% were more likely to report making positive changes in life or adopting healthier habits because of their cancer. Receiving informational support from healthcare providers was also consistently associated with positive byproducts (odds ratios ranging from 1.6 to 2.0). Few of the stressors were associated with positive byproducts: having insurance problems due to cancer was positively associated with becoming a stronger person, and work limitations were associated with making positive changes in life; those who reported high perceived chances of recurrence were less likely to report becoming a stronger person.

Significance of Results:

Having a family caregiver and receiving detailed informational support from healthcare providers were associated with reporting positive experiences with cancer. The hypotheses and future research stimulated by these findings may improve our understanding of the process by which positive byproducts develop and may ultimately help improve psychological well-being among cancer survivors.


Corresponding author

*Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Kristin Litzelman, 4115 Nancy Nicholas Hall, 1300 Linden Drive, Madison, Wisconsin 53706. E-mail:


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