Is communication guidance mistaken? Qualitative study of parent-oncologist communication in childhood cancer

Br J Cancer. 2013 Aug 20;109(4):836-43. doi: 10.1038/bjc.2013.413. Epub 2013 Jul 30.


Background: Guidance encourages oncologists to engage patients and relatives in discussing the emotions that accompany cancer diagnosis and treatment. We investigated the perspectives of parents of children with leukaemia on the role of paediatric oncologists in such discussion.

Methods: Qualitative study comprising 33 audio-recorded parent-oncologist consultations and semi-structured interviews with 67 parents during the year following diagnosis.

Results: Consultations soon after the diagnosis were largely devoid of overt discussion of parental emotion. Interviewed parents did not describe a need for such discussion. They spoke of being comforted by oncologists' clinical focus, by the biomedical information they provided and by their calmness and constancy. When we explicitly asked parents 1 year later about the oncologists' role in emotional support, they overwhelmingly told us that they did not want to discuss their feelings with oncologists. They wanted to preserve the oncologists' focus on their child's clinical care, deprecated anything that diverted from this and spoke of the value of boundaries in the parent-oncologist relationship.

Conclusion: Parents were usually comforted by oncologists, but this was not achieved in the way suggested by communication guidance. Communication guidance would benefit from an enhanced understanding of how emotional support is experienced by those who rely on it.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Communication*
  • Emotions*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Medical Oncology / methods
  • Parents / psychology*
  • Pediatrics / methods
  • Precursor Cell Lymphoblastic Leukemia-Lymphoma / psychology*
  • Precursor Cell Lymphoblastic Leukemia-Lymphoma / therapy
  • Professional-Family Relations*
  • Qualitative Research