Experiences and perceptions of social eating for patients living with and beyond head and neck cancer: a qualitative study

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)
52 Downloads (Pure)


Purpose Patients with head and neck cancer (HNC) describe eating as more than a physical activity for nutrition and calories. After treatment for HNC, patients report a changed social experience around food, with eating and drinking in front of family and friends depicted as a challenge. However, there is limited research exploring how patients with HNC adapt and cope with social eating difficulties. This study aims to explore patients' experiences and perceptions of social eating and drinking following treatment for HNC.

Methods A qualitative research design using semi-structured interviews was employed to understand the experiences of social eating of patients living with and beyond HNC. Reflexive thematic analysis was used to inductively develop key themes from the data.

Results Fourteen interviews were conducted with patients, and two key themes were identified: (1) "Social eating became a conscious process" and (2) "Strategies to maximise social eating participation". To maximise social eating enjoyment, patients attempted to minimise the attention on their eating function and the fuss created around food. Patients with HNC established psychological and cognitive adaptations to manage expectations and promote positive participation in social eating.

Conclusion This paper identifies key barriers limiting or diminishing social eating for patients with HNC; including being self-conscious, lack of understanding from others and functional issues with eating and drinking. This research highlights the need to raise awareness of social eating challenges and for the social dimensions of eating to be addressed through family-centred, supportive holistic interventions implemented early in the patient's cancer journey.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4129-4137
Number of pages9
JournalSupportive Care in Cancer
Issue number5
Early online date24 Jan 2022
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 31 May 2022

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:
© 2022, The Author(s).


  • Head and neck cancer
  • Social
  • Eating
  • Commensality
  • Survivorship
  • Qualitative


Dive into the research topics of 'Experiences and perceptions of social eating for patients living with and beyond head and neck cancer: a qualitative study'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this