When a cancer diagnosis arrives, it impacts both the patient and their family. A new study finds just how much it can impact particular family members: children.
The American Cancer Society recently analyzed national data to compare the wellbeing of children whose parents have a history of cancer and those who do not. According to findings published in JAMA Pediatrics, parental cancer history is more apt to cause problems in areas ranging from education to the ability to afford health care.
Dr. Zhiyuan Zheng, the study’s lead author and health economist at the American Cancer Society, explains, “Everyone who has ever been touched by cancer knows the havoc it can wreak on individuals and families. Our study clearly shows the devastating effects that parental cancer has on children in terms of financial hardship and mental and physical health.”
To conduct the study, researchers looked at data from the 2010-2018 National Health Interview Survey, which showed that 3.4% of children between the ages of 5 and 17 came from a family with parental cancer history. The team found that these children were more apt to miss school due to health reasons, were more likely to miss out on getting medical care because their family couldn’t afford it, were more apt to take prescription medications, and had generally worse mental health than other children. Additionally, the children often had psychosocial and behavioral challenges that were unaddressed.
With this knowledge, the researchers say it’s important for all adults in the lives of these children to do what they can to help with mental and physical health.
Dr. Zheng says, “The next step is to establish evidence to show how parental cancer impacts long-term mental and physical well-being as well. It’s important that oncologists, pediatricians, and primary care physicians screen children with a parental cancer history to determine how they have been impacted and begin to provide care and support as needed.”
The American Cancer Society says that friends and loved ones of the child’s parents can also be key. Whether it’s helping shuttle kids to their activities or having a friendly face get them to and from school, it can go a long way.