How do researchers conceive of spousal grief after cancer? A systematic review of models used by researchers to study spousal grief in the cancer context




Although spouses bereaved after cancer are considered vulnerable people, there have been few empirical studies to explore grief specifically in this context.


Using PsycINFO, Medline, and the PRISMA statement, we systematically searched the literature by intersecting ‘cancer’ and ‘grie*’, ‘cancer’ and ‘bereave*’, and ‘cancer’ and ‘mourn*’.


Gathering 76 studies (2000–2013) that met the inclusion criteria for bereavement in adulthood, bereavement of an adult loved one and evidence-based research, we found the following:

  1. Spousal relationships are not systematically examined in the current dominant models of grief.
  2. Theoretically derived determinants of spousal grief after cancer and empirically derived ones converge toward the necessity to include the caregiving experience as determining grief reactions.
  3. A growing body of literature concerning prolonged grief disorders now provides integrative reflections regarding the characteristics of spousal loss, predictors, and associated therapeutic interventions in the cancer context.


Few empirical studies (20 of 76) target spousal bereavement specifically after cancer. The process of adaptation to loss is usually decontextualized, removing any consideration of the relationship to the deceased or the experience of caregiving and dying. Our findings suggest that this topic warrants more studies that use both prospective and mixed methodologies, as well as explore typical grief needs and experiences of bereaved spouses. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.