Parental perceptions of being told their child has cancer

Pediatr Blood Cancer. 2008 Oct;51(4):531-4. doi: 10.1002/pbc.21667.


Background: Finding out that your child has cancer is a devastating experience. How this information is communicated can have a lasting impression on parents receiving the news. The purpose of this study was to assess how well parents recall discussing the diagnosis of cancer and to summarize suggestions for improvement.

Methods: A questionnaire was developed with input from several parents of children previously diagnosed with cancer. All parents of children <18 years of age with a diagnosis of cancer who were >1 month post-diagnosis at our children's hospital were asked to participate. The patient sample was identified through the in- and outpatient clinics from June to August 2006.

Results: One-hundred sixteen parents (mothers and fathers) completed the questionnaire, with only two parents refusing (1.7%). The moment of disclosure of the diagnosis was remembered vividly in 77%, well in 20%, and somewhat, vaguely or not at all in 1% each. Parental reaction to the disclosure was viewed as a positive experience 79% of the time and a negative experience 21% of the time. Parents also provided a number of suggestions for future disclosure.

Conclusions: The majority of parents recall receiving the diagnosis and the discussions that ensued about their child's diagnosis of cancer. Most parents were satisfied with their experience with receiving the diagnosis. Suggestions for improvement can be incorporated into future educational indicatives for front line healthcare providers to improve communication of sensitive diagnoses with parents.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Medical Oncology
  • Mental Recall
  • Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Parents / psychology*
  • Perception*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires