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Psychooncology. 2009 Dec;18(12):1241-51. doi: 10.1002/pon.1565.

Psychological interventions with siblings of pediatric cancer patients: a systematic review.

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  • 1Department of Psychosomatics and Psychiatry, University Children's Hospital Zurich, CH-8032 Zurich, Switzerland. alice.prchal@kispi.uzh.ch



Siblings of pediatric cancer patients have been shown to be at risk for developing emotional, behavioral, and social problems. There is a need for psychological interventions in this population. Several researchers have previously documented and evaluated their interventions with siblings. This paper aimed at reviewing the existing reports of evaluated psychological interventions with siblings of pediatric cancer patients and at outlining future directions.


Research was conducted on several online bibliographic databases. Articles were selected on the basis of predefined criteria. If possible, effect sizes (ES) were calculated.


Fourteen studies representing 11 different sibling interventions met criteria for inclusion. One individual intervention, three camps, and seven groups were found. Objectives of interventions concentrated mainly on enhancing siblings' coping and improving their medical knowledge. In terms of outcome measures, most of the studies focused on psychological adjustment variables. Findings showed significant improvements in siblings' depression symptomatology, medical knowledge, and health-related quality of life. Findings were inconsistent with regard to anxiety, behavioral problems, social adjustment, self-esteem, and posttraumatic stress symptoms. Depending on the outcome variables, small to large ES were found. Satisfaction with the intervention was high in both siblings and parents.


There is tentative evidence that psychological interventions with siblings of childhood cancer patients can effectively reduce psychological maladjustment and improve medical knowledge about cancer. However, the number of studies is small, and several methodological shortcomings have to be noted. In future, more randomized controlled trials need to be conducted in larger samples to extend the evidence base.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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