"A very difficult conversation": Challenges and opportunities for improvement in pediatric oncology clinician communication about late effects

Pediatr Blood Cancer. 2024 Aug;71(8):e31093. doi: 10.1002/pbc.31093. Epub 2024 Jun 5.


Objectives: Current approaches to communicating the potential late effects of pediatric oncology treatments leave many patients and families feeling unaware of risks and unprepared for the future. We aimed to identify provider perspectives on early communication about late effects.

Methods: Semi-structured interviews were conducted with pediatric oncology providers at Dana-Farber/Boston Children's Cancer and Blood Disorders Center from December 2021 to March 2022. Purposeful sampling ensured a diversity of clinical roles. Thematic analysis was conducted using deductive and inductive codes.

Results: We interviewed nine pediatric oncology providers; all expressed discomfort discussing potential late effects in early treatment conversations. Barriers to late effects communication included (i) social-emotional factors, including lack of perceived importance to families, worry about emotional burden on families, and provider feelings of helplessness/wanting to provide hope; and (ii) suboptimal set-up/resources, including limitations of consent forms, time constraints, and lack of available data. All providers supported the creation of a communication tool to assist early discussions of late effects.

Conclusions: Communicating about late effect risks poses unique challenges to providers because of the perceived impact on families and the limitations of current practices and available resources. These findings support the need for a late effects communication tool to assist in early communication about late effects risks.

Keywords: healthcare communication; late effects; pediatric cancer; survivorship.

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Communication*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medical Oncology / methods
  • Neoplasms* / psychology
  • Neoplasms* / therapy
  • Physician-Patient Relations