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Children of Patients with Cancer More Likely to Experience Medical Financial Hardship and Emotional and Educational Challenges Following Parental Diagnosis
Apr 11, 2022
American Cancer Society leaders urge coordinated efforts between parents, schools and health care professionals to provide support

FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT:
Anne.Doerr@cancer.org
American Cancer Society 

ATLANTA – April 11, 2022 – A new study led by researchers at the American Cancer Society (ACS) shows children in the United States living in families with a history of parental cancer were more likely to face financial, emotional and educational challenges compared to families without a parental cancer history. The data was published today in JAMA Pediatrics.

“Everyone who has ever been touched by cancer knows the havoc it can wreak on individuals and families,” said Dr. Zhiyuan Zheng, senior principal scientist and health economist at the American Cancer Society and lead author of the study. “Our study clearly shows the devastating effects that parental cancer has on children in terms of financial hardship and mental and physical health.”

Researchers used data from the 2010-2018 National Health Interview Survey. The study reported 3.4% of children, aged 5-17 years, were living in families with a parental cancer history. The findings showed these children were more likely to miss school due to health reasons, were less likely to receive medical care because of a lack of family financial resources, were more likely to take prescription medications and generally experienced worse mental health compared to children in non-cancer families. Children living in families with a parental cancer history were particularly vulnerable and began to experience psychosocial and behavioral challenges that often went unaddressed. 

Dr. Zheng emphasized leaders in nearly every aspect of a child’s life – teachers, coaches, clergy, medical and mental health professionals – need to be actively involved in monitoring the mental and physical health of children living in families with a parental cancer history. In addition, they need to be actively involved in providing care and support wherever and whenever possible.

The study is an important first step in determining how parental cancer impacts children. While the findings illuminate challenges immediately faced by children, the long-term implications as they head into adulthood are largely unknown.

“The next step is to establish evidence to show how parental cancer impacts long-term mental and physical well-being as well,” said Dr. Zheng. “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.”

Resources from the American Cancer Society on helping children understand and deal with cancer in a family member can be found here.

Read the full study here.

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About the American Cancer Society

The American Cancer Society is on a mission to free the world from cancer. We invest in lifesaving research, provide 24/7 information and support, and work to ensure that individuals in every community have access to cancer prevention, detection, and treatment. For more information, visit cancer.org.