Children of Cancer Patients at Risk for Emotional, Psychological Problems

June 30, 2014
Leah Lawrence
Leah Lawrence

The children of patients with cancer may be at a significantly increased risk for mental and behavioral health problems, according to the results of a recent study.

The children of patients with cancer may be at a significantly increased risk for mental and behavioral health problems, according to the results of a study published in Cancer.

A survey looking at these issues from both the child’s perspective and the parent’s perspective showed that compared with normal levels, the average levels of emotional and behavioral problems in children of cancer patients is significantly higher.

Birgit Möller, PhD, of the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf and the University Medical Center Münster in Germany, and colleagues gathered data from 235 families recruited at five medical centers. The participants included 402 parents and 324 children, ranging in age from 11 to 21 years. Participants completed questionnaires and emotional and behavioral problems were measured in children using the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire.

The researchers examined possible predictors of these higher than normal emotional and behavioral problems and found that general family dysfunction was the largest predictor from both the child’s and the parent’s perspective. Other factors examined were type of cancer, parent’s age, parent’s sex, and parent depression.

 “This means that in view of a life-threatening disease in a parent, the level of family functioning predicts children’s behavioral and emotional symptoms more than any other tested variable including illness-related factors,” Dr. Möller said in a press release.

Data from this study support that of findings from previous studies, the researchers wrote. However, results from this study may not be generalizable because a convenience sample was used to draw these conclusions. In addition, some medical variables, such as poor prognosis, advanced cancer stage, and palliative status, were not included in the analysis.

 “Additional training of oncologists, interdisciplinary approaches, and family-based mental health liaison services are recommended to meet the needs of minor children and their families and to minimize negative long-term effects in children,” Möller said in a press release.

Möller and her team have developed a preventive counseling program-called the Children of Somatically Ill Parents (COSIP) program-that focuses on family communication, affective involvement of family members, flexible problem solving, mutual support, and parenting issues.