Childhood cancer is always a cause of mental strain for parents. Previous research has shown that in certain cases the reaction is very strong, and can endure long after the disease has been cured and the child has recovered. However, it has not been known how much the parental reaction is linked to different medical factors relating to the cancer, and how it differs from one type of cancer to the other.
To answer this question, researchers applied a number of psychological scales to 321 parents of children treated for various kinds of cancer at childhood cancer centres in Stockholm and Linköping. The diagnoses differed in terms of a number of medical factors, such as, for example, treatment and risk of late side-effects of either disease or treatment.
The findings, published in the Journal of Hematology/Oncology, show that the parents of children with certain cancer diagnoses evinced a higher degree of psychological symptoms than others. Stress, feelings of uncertainty, anxiety and loss of control were significantly stronger if the child had suffered a brain tumour or a form of skeletal cancer than if he or she had suffered another common kind of cancer, such as acute lymphoblastic leukaemia.
“Distress symptoms were particularly great with cancer forms that are complicated, in terms of, for example, that the long-term outcome is relatively uncertain,” says Krister Boman, leader of the project of which this present study forms part. “This is the first time that we are able to pin down factors determining the severity of parents’ reactions to this type of disease-related crisis with any certainty.”
The researchers believe that a more nuanced study of specific disease-related stress factors will have to be made if the different needs that families have for particular attention and support are to be better understood. The results are to be used to justify a more individualised view of how families of children with cancer are managed and informed by the healthcare services.
The study was carried out with support from The Swedish Childhood Cancer
Foundation and The Cancer and Traffic Injury Fund Sweden, and is part of a larger project on the consequences of childhood cancer, the need for intervention and follow-up.
Publication: “The influence of pediatric cancer diagnosis and illness complication factors on parental distress”, Hovén E, Anclair M, Samuelsson U, Kogner P, Boman K, J Pediatr Hematol Oncol. 2008;30(11):807-14.