Oncologist responses to advanced cancer patients’ lived illness experiences and effects: an applied conversation analysis study

  • Jacqueline van Meurs (Creator)
  • Wyke Stommel (Creator)
  • Carlo J. W. Leget (Creator)
  • Joep van de Geer (Creator)
  • Evelien Kuip (Creator)
  • Kris Vissers (Creator)
  • Yvonne Engels (Creator)
  • Anne Wichmann (Creator)



Abstract Background An advanced cancer patient’s life is often disturbed by fear of cancer recurrence, cancer progress, approaching suffering, and fear of dying. Consequently, the role of the medical oncologist is not only to provide best quality anti-cancer treatment, but also to address the impact of disease and treatment on a patient’s life, the lived illness experience. We aimed to gain insights into whether and how medical oncologists working at an outpatient clinic identify and explore lived illness experiences raised by patients with advanced cancer, and how this influences patients’ responses. Methods Conversation Analysis was applied to analyse 16 verbatim transcribed audio-recorded consultations. Results We identified 37 fragments in which patients expressed a lived experience from 11 of the 16 consultations. We found differing responses from different oncologists. Patients continued talking about their lived experiences if the listener produced a continuer such as humming or tried to capture the experience in their own words. In contrast, a response with optimistic talking or the presentation of medical evidence prevented patients from further unfolding the experience. In consultations in which the lived illness experience was most extensively unfolded, medical oncologists and patients could constantly see each other’s facial expressions. Conclusions When a patient with advanced cancer spontaneously introduces a lived illness experience, it helps to identify and explore it when the medical oncologist produces a continuer or tries to capture this experience in their own words. Our findings can be implemented in training sessions, followed by frequent reinforcement in daily care.
Date made available18 Mar 2022

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