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

Mark Dornan, Cherith Semple, Anne Moorhead, Eilis McCaughan

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)
231 Downloads (Pure)


Purpose 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.
Methods 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.
Results 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
Pages (from-to)4899-4909
Number of pages11
JournalSupportive Care in Cancer
Early online date1 Mar 2021
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 1 Sept 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
  • Alcohol Drinking/epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Quality of Life
  • Drinking
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms/therapy
  • Qualitative Research
  • Nasopharyngeal Neoplasms


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