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Cancer Nurs. 2010 Mar-Apr;33(2):110-8. doi: 10.1097/NCC.0b013e3181c024bb.

Parents' experience of cancer who have young children: a literature review.

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South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust, Cancer Services Ulster Hospital, Belfast, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom.



The National Cancer Institute estimates that 24% of adults with cancer are parenting children younger than 18 years. When a parent is diagnosed with cancer, this is a major stressor and often creates multiple problems for families.


The aim of this article was to conduct a comprehensive review of the literature on the experience of parents with cancer who are caring for young children.


A comprehensive review of the literature was undertaken using systematic review principles. The search strategy included five electronic bibliographic databases, using the search terms: parent, cancer, parents and cancer and communication.


Thirteen studies were found that focused on parents' experience of cancer. Eleven of the 13 studies used solely qualitative methodology, and 2 studies used mixed methods. Of the studies identified, the majority focused on the experience of mothers, and mainly those with a diagnosis of breast cancer. Analysis of the 13 studies on parents' experience following a diagnosis of cancer revealed 3 predominant themes: (a) being a good parent, (b) telling the children, and (c) maintaining routine at home.


The 3 themes highlight how parents with cancer struggle to know how best to talk to their children about cancer and the perceived lack of guidance and support from professionals, the feelings of guilt about not being "a good parent," and the effort required to maintain routine at home as a way of protecting their children.


Support for parents with cancer on relevant parenting issues should be acknowledged as an important facet of care for oncology nurses, as a mechanism of reducing parental stress and psychological distress for the whole family.

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