Identity Among Adolescent and Young Adult Cancer Survivors: An Exploratory Qualitative Study

Rebecca Tutino, Fordham University


Adolescent and young adult (AYA) cancer survivors present with unique needs, as a cancer diagnosis during AYA intersects with a key period in development. This can include implications for one’s identity, as a cancer diagnosis and treatment can shape patients’ beliefs about themselves and the world. Domains of identity that may be particularly relevant to AYAs are sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI), as adolescence is period of development coupled with development of the self, including the exploration of sexuality and romantic relationships, where individuals may come to understand and disclose their identities to others. Research on the implications of cancer on identity in AYA survivors is limited, particularly for sexual and gender minority (SGM) AYA cancer survivors. The aims of this qualitative analysis were to: 1) identify themes pertaining to identity in AYA cancer survivors, and 2) explore the experience of SGM AYA cancer survivors. This is a secondary data analysis of six focus groups conducted for program development. These 90-minute focus groups were stratified by: 1) participants ≥18 years treated in medical oncology, 2) participants <18 years treated in pediatric>oncology, 3) participants ≥18 years treated by either service, 4) adolescent participants (15-17 years), 5 and 6) participants who identify as SGM. Transcripts were coded using grounded theory, which included rounds of open, axial, and selective coding to identify primary themes. The sample (N=24) included 10 males, 13 females, and 1 transgender/gender non-conforming individual, ages 16-39 years (mean=26.8). The following concepts were identified: 1) Implications of physical changes on identity, 2) Changes in daily life, roles, and relationships, 3) Evolution of self though the cancer trajectory 4) Psychological impact of cancer/treatment on identity, 5) Experiences unique to SGM identity. Results support the need for clinician awareness of identity-related concepts. Themes pertaining to the experience of SGM AYA survivors suggest this population may have a cancer experience that differs from that of their heterosexual cisgender peers; further research to understand the needs of this population is warranted.

Subject Area

Clinical psychology|LGBTQ studies

Recommended Citation

Tutino, Rebecca, "Identity Among Adolescent and Young Adult Cancer Survivors: An Exploratory Qualitative Study" (2022). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI29260166.