A qualitative systematic review of the social eating and drinking experiences of patients following treatment for head and neck cancer

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Patients living with and beyond head and neck cancer (HNC) often have long-term,
functional challenges as a result of treatment. A key functional challenge relates to
eating and drinking; often associated with physical, emotional, and social difficulties.
Eating and drinking with family members and friends can become a struggle,
increasing the risk of social isolation and loneliness. This systematic review aims to
identify and synthesise the literature on the experiences of social eating and drinking
for patients following treatment for HNC.
Six electronic databases (Pubmed, Web of Science, CINAHL, EMBASE, PsychINFO
and Scopus) were systematically searched using subject headings and free-text word
searches in February 2020. Citation chaining and Google Scholar were used to identify
grey literature. PRISMA procedures were followed.
Of 6910 records identified, 24 studies met the inclusion criteria. Synthesis of the
research findings results in two major themes: 1) the experience of loss associated
with social eating and drinking, and 2) adjusting and support to promote social eating
and drinking.
Losses associated with social eating affect a patient’s psychological and emotional
well-being and impact on close relationships. To promote positive participation in social eating, patients were more likely to seek and receive support from someone within their
close social network, rather than a healthcare professional. Family and friends are an
essential source of support and are integral in facilitating engagement with social
eating following treatment for HNC. Future interventions should promote family
orientated resources, incorporating self-management strategies.
Original languageEnglish
JournalSupportive Care in Cancer
Early online date1 Mar 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 1 Mar 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This review was undertaken as part of a PhD studentship at Ulster University (MD) and funded by the Department for the Economy (DfE) Studentship.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, Crown.

Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Cancer survivorship
  • Eating
  • Head and neck cancer
  • Social
  • Systematic review


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