Posttraumatic growth in cancer patients at the end of life: An exploration of predictors and outcomes

Megan E Olden, Fordham University


A diagnosis of terminal cancer presents great psychological and physical challenges. Negative psychological sequelae at the end of life are well-studied, but little research has examined potential positive changes that may also occur. The purpose of this study was to investigate the phenomena of posttraumatic growth and benefit-finding in patients with terminal cancer using the Posttraumatic Growth Inventory (PTGI) and Benefit-Finding Scale. Potential predictors, such as demographic personality, stressor, and temporal characteristics, were examined as were relationships between psychological growth and depression, hopelessness, and spiritual well-being. Posttraumatic growth and benefit-finding were found to be significantly associated with religious affiliation, religiosity, minority status, and dispositional optimism. Younger age was associated with greater posttraumatic growth but not benefit-finding. Time since diagnosis, presence of recurrent disease, and survival length were not associated with posttraumatic growth or benefit-finding, nor was awareness of prognosis. Posttraumatic growth and benefit-finding were associated with lower hopelessness and depression and higher levels of spiritual well-being. In multiple regression models, posttraumatic growth and benefit-finding were found to interact with time since diagnosis in their impact on hopelessness. Patients with greater time since diagnosis demonstrated a significant association between 170 psychological growth and decreased hopelessness, which was not evident for those diagnosed more recently. Dispositional optimism was also found to interact with benefit-finding (but not posttraumatic growth) to impact spiritual well-being, with only those patients lower in optimism demonstrating a significant relationship between benefit-finding and increased spiritual well-being. Two PTGI subscales, Relating to Others and Appreciation of Life, were found to be significantly more highly endorsed than the other subscales, and the subscale New Possibilities was endorsed significantly less than the other subscales. The current findings indicate that posttraumatic growth and benefit-finding are common experiences for dying patients and are associated with decreased distress and increased spiritual well-being. Longitudinal studies are critical to determine if reports of positive growth offer a protective effect against end of life despair or increase patients' sense of well-being.

Subject Area

Developmental psychology|Clinical psychology

Recommended Citation

Olden, Megan E, "Posttraumatic growth in cancer patients at the end of life: An exploration of predictors and outcomes" (2009). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3384643.