Social isolation and connection in adolescents with cancer and survivors of childhood cancer: A systematic review

Daniel A. Pahl, Matthew S. Wieder, Dara M. Steinberg

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Introduction: Cancer may cause significant disruptions in normal adolescent development particularly in social domains. Both treatment and survivorship pose challenges to fostering social connections. To better understand these challenges, we conducted a systematic literature review of the experience of social isolation and connectedness in adolescents with cancer and adolescent survivors of childhood cancer. Methods: A systematic review of the scientific literature was conducted following PRISMA Guidelines. Eligible articles included original peer-reviewed research published in English between January 2000 and April 2020 that reported on social domains of patients and survivors of cancer between the ages of 10–21. Initial database search identified 4606 articles with 43 studies meeting inclusion criteria. Results: Results were synthesized into four domains: (1) the prevalence of connectedness/isolation; (2) risk factors associated with social isolation; (3) protective factors against social isolation; (4) the impact of social isolation on psychological health. Overall, adolescent patients and survivors of cancer have satisfactory social connectedness. However, certain subgroups including those with central nervous system tumors are at higher risk of social isolation. Conclusions: In general, adolescent cancer patients and survivors report levels of social connectedness consistent with healthy adolescent population norms. The risk and protective factors identified in this review may help serve as important indicators for psychosocial screening and interventions. These findings are particularly relevant in the COVID-19 era as all adolescents face challenges to social connections and psychosocial development.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)15-27
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Adolescence
StatePublished - Feb 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Adolescent
  • Cancer
  • Connectedness
  • Social isolation
  • Systematic review


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