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Palliat Support Care. 2017 Feb;15(1):88-97. doi: 10.1017/S1478951516000444. Epub 2016 Jun 21.

Parents with cancer: Searching for the right balance between telling the truth and protecting children.

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Oncology Department,Fondazione Poliambulanza,Brescia,Italy.
General Surgery Department,Fondazione Poliambulanza,Brescia,Italy.



Recent scientific approaches to cancer patients draw attention to the psychological aspects of the disease and the involvement of their families, who are forced to reorganize themselves in order to manage the patient's illness. Functional responses to a stressful event facilitate open communication between family members and empathy for the patient's children, who need to be involved and informed about the illness in a clear and open fashion. The primary goal of this observational study was to explore the communication styles used by cancer-stricken parents with their children and to identify a correlation with the patient's levels of anxiety and depression and their ability to cope. We also sought to understand whether location, severity, and time from diagnosis influenced communication, coping, anxiety, or depression.


From September of 2011 to July of 2015, 151 questionnaires were given to patients who had received at least one course of chemotherapy. The instruments that we employed were the Openness to Discuss Cancer in the Nuclear Family Scale, the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale, and the Mini-Mental Adjustment to Cancer Scale. Our sample included patients with children aged from 3 to 18 years. The patients had different types of cancer, mainly gastrointestinal and breast cancer. Their disease was at the metastatic stage in approximately 20% of patients.


Our results showed statistically significant correlations between higher levels of anxiety and depression and more closed communication styles. The coping styles "hopelessness/helplessness," "cognitive avoidance," and "anxious preoccupation" were associated with a closed communication style that is correlated with higher levels of anxiety and depression. Tumor location, time from diagnosis, and stage of disease did not show statistically significant correlations with anxiety, depression, coping mechanisms, or communication styles.


Our study confirmed what has been reported in the literature: high levels of anxiety and depression affect communication among family members. Not surprisingly, the "fighting spirit" coping style engenders open communication.


Cancer; Children; Communication; Psychological support

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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