Palliative & Supportive Care

Clarifying “meaning” in the context of cancer research: A systematic literature review

VIRGINIA  LEE  N., Ph.D. (candidate) a1 a2 a3 c1 , S. ROBIN  COHEN  Ph.D. a1 a4 a5 a6 , LINDA  EDGAR  N., Ph.D. a1 a4 a7 , ANDREA M.  LAIZNER  N., Ph.D. a1 a2 a8 and ANITA J.  GAGNON  N., Ph.D. a1 a2 a9
a1 School of Nursing, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
a2 McGill University Health Centre, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
a3 Montreal General Hospital, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
a4 Department of Oncology, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
a5 Department of Medicine, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
a6 Lady Davis Institute, Sir Mortimer B. Davis-Jewish General Hospital, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
a7 Department of Epidemiology, and Hope and Cope, Sir Mortimer B. Davis-Jewish General Hospital
a8 Royal Victoria Hospital, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
a9 Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Article author query
lee v   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 
cohen sr   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 
edgar l   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 
laizner am   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 
gagnon aj   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 


Objectives: This article synthesizes the published literature related to the construct of meaning in the adult cancer population.

Methods: The databases CancerLit, CINAHL, Medline, PsychINFO, and the Journal of Psychosocial Oncology and PsychoOncology were searched to identify all studies related to meaning. The methodological aspects of all studies are described and the conceptual aspects are summarized only from those studies that met criteria for methodological rigor and validity of findings. The definitions for global meaning, appraised meaning, search for meaning, and meaning as outcome as proposed by Park and Folkman were used to interpret the findings.

Results: Of 44 studies identified, 26 met the criteria for methodological rigor. There is strong empirical and qualitative evidence of a relationship between meaning as an outcome of and psychosocial adjustment to cancer.

Significance of results: The qualitative findings are considered useful for the development of psychosocial interventions aimed at helping cancer patients cope with and even derive positive benefit from their experience. However, variations in the conceptual and operational definitions, frequent reliance on homogeneous and convenience sampling, and the lack of experimental designs are considered to be methodological limitations that need to be addressed to advance the study of meaning in the context of cancer.

(Received May 1 2004)
(Accepted June 13 2004)

Key Words: Meaning; Cancer; Systematic literature review; Research.

c1 Corresponding author: Virginia Lee, McGill University Health Center c/o Nursing Research Department, 1650 Cedar Avenue, Room D6-156, Montreal, Quebec H3G 1A4, Canada. E-mail: