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Help Seeking for Cancer Symptoms: A Review of the Literature

Mairin O'Mahony

Josephine Hegarty

symptom assessment, literature review
ONF 2009, 36(4), E178-E184. DOI: 10.1188/09.ONF.E178-E184

Purpose/Objectives: To define help seeking and identify a theoretical framework to explain the help-seeking process of patients with self-discovered cancer symptoms.

Data Sources: Literature published in English from 1998-2008.

Data Synthesis: Findings highlighted gender's role in help-seeking behavior. Delayed help seeking for cancer symptoms was common, with many associated influencing factors. To date, research on intentions to seek help has facilitated the development of health-promotion programs that target those who are likely to delay.

Conclusions: Help seeking was defined as a response to health changes as well as a part of the broader process of health-seeking behavior. Reviewed frameworks and models provided knowledge and understanding about help-seeking behavior in various contexts. However, an all-encompassing framework explaining the entire process was not identified.

Implications for Nursing: Nurses are in a unique position to promote prompt help seeking for patients with self-discovered cancer symptoms. Gaining clarity on the concept and identifying a theoretical framework may help nurses understand the complex nature of help seeking in patients with self-discovered cancer symptoms.

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