Pediatric Cancer Patients' Treatment-Related Distress and Longer-Term Anxiety: An Individual Differences Perspective

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Although distress during treatment procedures and longer-term treatment-related anxiety are among the most common cancer-related stressors for children and their families, they are not invariant. This study examined whether individual differences in temperament and personality play a role in how children respond to treatment procedures. Attention control, a facet of the effortful control dimension of temperament, and the personality attribute ego-resilience were hypothesized to predict lower levels of distress during procedures. Moreover, ego-resilience and distress during procedures were hypothesized to account for indirect associations between attention control and longer-term treatment-related anxiety. Child gender was examined as a potential moderator of these relationships.


Participants were 147 children undergoing treatment for pediatric cancer and their parents. At baseline, parents reported on children's effortful control and ego-resilience. Multiple raters assessed children's distress during multiple cancer-related procedures. Treatment-related anxiety was measured 3 and 9 months after the last assessed treatment procedure.


Attention control was linked to ego-resilience and lower levels of distress, and these variables, in turn, accounted for indirect associations between attention control and treatment-related anxiety. Associations involving ego-resilience were stronger for boys than girls.


Attention control plays an important role in children's immediate and longer-term responses to cancer-related medical procedures. Medical staff should consider individual differences in child temperament and personality when considering the nature and extent of support to provide to pediatric cancer patients and their families.

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