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Cancer. 1996 Apr 1;77(7):1409-18.

Adjustment of children and adolescents to parental cancer. Parents' and children's perspectives.

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Department of Psychology, University of Vermont, Burlington, USA.



Little empirical evidence exists to address the impact of a diagnosis of cancer of a father or mother on his or her children. Previous studies have found inconsistencies in the levels of distress reported for children of a parent with cancer, which may be a function of who (parent or child) was reporting on the child's symptoms and when the reports were taken (near diagnosis or months or years later).


This study examined parents' and children's reports of emotional and behavioral problems in children and adolescents from 76 patient families in which a mother or father was recently diagnosed with cancer.


Parents' reports indicated little or no evidence of emotional distress or disruptive behavior in their children regardless of the child's age or sex, or whether the mother or father was ill. Children's reports differed significantly from those of their parents, with adolescent girls reporting the highest levels of symptoms of anxiety/depression and aggressive behavior. Children's reports of their emotional distress declined from an initial assessment 10 weeks after their parents' diagnosis to a follow-up 4 months later, whereas parents' reports of their children's distress did not change with time.


Children's symptoms of psychologic distress varied considerably according to their age, sex, whether their mother or father had cancer, and whether they themselves or their parents were reporting the symptoms. Adolescent girls whose mothers had cancer reported the highest levels of distress. When children did report elevated levels of psychologic symptoms, their parents did not appear to be aware of their distress and rated their children as asymptomatic. These findings suggest that health professionals may need to assist parents in recognizing and coping with their children's distress when it is present.

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