Psychosocial consequences for children of a parent with cancer: a pilot study

Cancer Nurs. 2003 Jun;26(3):195-202. doi: 10.1097/00002820-200306000-00004.


When cancer is diagnosed in a parent, this may also have consequences for the children. The purpose of this pilot study was to gain more insight into the psychosocial consequences for children of a parent with cancer, from the perspective of both the children and their parents. For this study, 14 families participated in semistructured interviews and completed standardized questionnaires. Interviews were tape-recorded, transcribed, and analyzed using content analysis techniques. No significant difference was found in behavioral and emotional problems between the children in these families and the normative sample. However, parents reported problems on a borderline and clinically elevated level in one third of the children, and three of seven children self-reported problems on these levels. The interview results showed that parents reported (temporary) behavioral problems in most children during the acute stage of their parents' illness. Other problems, such as anxiety, sleeping disorders, and compulsive behavior, persisted for longer. Parents reported that their children had more problems than the children themselves reported. This finding was not supported by the quantitative analysis. The results from the Child Behavior Checklist and the Dutch version of the Family Adaptability and Cohesion Evaluation Scales showed that children of families with poor family functioning were more vulnerable. In particular, extremely high adaptation (chaotic) and extremely low family cohesion (disengaged) seemed related to the prevalence of emotional and behavioral problems in these children. Absence of home healthcare was an additional burden for adolescent children.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Adolescent
  • Behavioral Symptoms*
  • Child
  • Communication
  • Emotions
  • Family / psychology
  • Family Health
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Parent-Child Relations*
  • Parents* / psychology
  • Pilot Projects
  • Psychology, Adolescent*
  • Psychology, Child*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires