Teenagers want to be told when a parent's death is near: A nationwide study of cancer-bereaved youths' opinions and experiences

Acta Oncol. 2015 Jun;54(6):944-50. doi: 10.3109/0284186X.2014.978891. Epub 2014 Dec 3.


Background: We aimed to investigate cancer-bereaved youths' opinions and experiences of being told about a parent's imminent death from cancer and of barriers to this communication.

Material and methods: This nationwide population-based survey included 622/851 (73%) youths (aged 18-26) who at age 13-16, 6-9 years earlier had lost a parent to cancer.

Results: In total 595 of 610 (98%) of the participants stated that teenage children should be informed when the parent's death was imminent (i.e. a matter of hours or days, not weeks). 59% stated that they themselves had been told this, 37% by the parents, 7% by parents and healthcare professionals together and 8% by professionals only. Frequent reasons for why the teenager and parents did not talk about imminent death before loss were that one (n=106) or both (n=25) of the parents together with the teenage child had pretended that the illness was not that serious, or that none of the parents had been aware that death was imminent (n=80). Up to a couple of hours before the loss, 43% of participants had not realized that death was imminent.

Conclusion: In this population-based study virtually all youth who at ages 13-16 had lost a parent to cancer afterwards stated that teenagers should be told when loss is near, i.e. a matter of hours or days, not weeks. Many stated that they had not been given this information and few were informed by professionals, with implications for future improvements in end-of-life care of patients with teenage children.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attitude to Death*
  • Child
  • Child of Impaired Parents*
  • Communication Barriers
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neoplasms* / psychology
  • Parent-Child Relations
  • Parents*
  • Professional-Family Relations
  • Psychology, Adolescent
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Sweden
  • Terminal Care
  • Truth Disclosure*
  • Young Adult