Family communication during the cancer experience

Julie Harris, Deborah J. Bowen, Hoda Badr, Peggy Hannon, Jennifer Hay, Katherine Regan Sterba

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


The family is often the primary support unit for the cancer patient. We are beginning to understand the impact of a cancer diagnosis on the family, but we are still far from understanding the complex process of how and why information is communicated within families during and after a cancer diagnosis. As survival rates increase and treatments become more complex, understanding how to improve communication processes within the family will become even more vital to supporting families and improving patient outcomes. In this article, we present the results of a 2-hour working group convened during a cancer communications workshop held at the 2008 Society of Behavioral Medicine meeting. During the session, an interdisciplinary group of investigators met and discussed the current state of the science with respect to familial communication during the cancer experience. We focused our discussion on four general areas: current state of the research, theoretical perspectives, methodological perspectives, and areas for future research and intervention in order to understand family communication in this context. Currently, most research has focused on couples and caregivers, mainly in the context of breast cancer. More research is needed into a wider array of cancers and expanding our theoretical foundations into understanding communication between other family members and approaching the family as a unit. Finally, we conclude with recommendations for three content areas to focus future research and intervention development efforts, namely, (1) familial life course, (2) technological advances, and (3) changing structure of the family.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)76-84
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Health Communication
StatePublished - 20 May 2009
Externally publishedYes


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