When a parent has cancer: How does it impact on children's psychosocial functioning? A systematic review

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Children may experience intense stress when faced with symptoms of parental illness, as disruption of family routines and temporary unavailability of the parent occurs. This review aimed to analyse the psychological impact of parental cancer diagnosis in families with dependent children and identify protective and risk factors for child adjustment. Using preselected keywords, a systematic search of six electronic abstract databases was conducted. Studies had to investigate the psychological impact on children under 18 years old, had to measure psychosocial functioning quantitatively and had to be published in English in peer-reviewed journals between 1990 and 2017. Twenty-six studies met the inclusion criteria. A thematic analysis was undertaken to establish the main themes: (a) Psychological symptoms, (b) Global functioning and well-being, (c) Coping strategies and (d) Parent and family-related factors. Coping strategies and family functioning seem to be predictors of the child's psychological well-being. Adolescents are more likely to develop emotional and behavioural symptoms compared with children. However, the heterogeneity of the findings and study designs does not allow for strong conclusions to be drawn. These preliminary results should be considered when developing screening programmes for children whose parents are diagnosed with cancer.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere12895
JournalEuropean Journal of Cancer Care
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Nov 1 2018


  • adaptation
  • child
  • family
  • neoplasms
  • parents
  • psychosocial factors

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology


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