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Patients with cancer believed that chemotherapy had to “hurt” or “cause side effects” to be effective

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What are cancer patients’ perceptions of adjuvant chemotherapy?




Cancer treatment centre in western Canada.


30 patients with colon or rectal cancer who were regular, irregular, or 1-time participants in a support group.


Field notes were recorded after participant observation at monthly support group meetings lasting 1.5 hours and events, including a full-day retreat and a colorectal cancer forum. The support group was open to patients, caregivers, supporters, and occasional observers. In-depth semistructured interviews were also conducted with 8 participants, with questions probing topics related to cancer diagnosis, treatments, and the support group. Interviews were recorded and transcribed verbatim; both data sets were analysed for themes.


Side effects of chemotherapy. Many patients had ongoing side effects after active chemotherapy, including chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy, whereas some patients had only a few side effects. A dominant idea expressed in the support groups was the belief that for chemotherapy to be effective, it had to “hurt” or “cause side effects.” When …

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  • Source of funding: Canadian Institutes of Health Research.