Perceived relatedness, death acceptance, and demoralization in patients with cancer


Perceived relatedness, death acceptance, and demoralization in patients with cancer


Rebecca Philipp, Anja Mehnert, Volkmar Müller, Martin Reck & Sigrun Vehling 



Close relationships can be strained by losses related to independence, autonomy, and separation after diagnosis of severe illness. The perceived quality of their close relationships affects individuals’ psychological adaptation in this context. We explored the level of perceived relatedness and its impact on demoralization and death acceptance. We further examined a possible protective effect of perceived relatedness on the association between tumor stage and death acceptance.


For this observational study, we consecutively recruited gynecology outpatients and general surgery inpatients at the University Cancer Center Hamburg-Eppendorf and oncological inpatients at the LungenClinic Grosshansdorf, Germany. At baseline, 307 patients (age M = 59.6, 69% female, 69% advanced cancer) participated. At 6- and 12-month (T3) follow-up, 213 and 153 patients responded, respectively. Patients completed self-report questionnaires including a modified version of the Posttraumatic Growth Inventory assessing perceived relatedness, the Life Attitude Profile-Revised assessing death acceptance, the Demoralization Scale, and the Memorial Symptom Assessment Scale assessing symptom burden. We calculated multiple linear regression analyses controlling for demographic and disease-related factors.


Participants reported a stronger perceived relatedness at baseline (M = 3.04, SE = 0.03, possible range 0–4) than at T3 (M = 2.93, SE = 0.04; p = 0.02). Perceived relatedness significantly predicted lower demoralization at T3 but did not moderate the relationship between tumor stage and demoralization. Apart from male gender, none of the predictor or moderator variables had a significant impact on death acceptance at T3.


The strong impact of perceived relatedness on existential distress emphasizes the importance of strengthening interpersonal relationships within psychosocial interventions.

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Year 2020
Language English
Format PDF
DOI 10.1007/s00520-019-05088-2