Symptoms of Posttraumatic Stress in Parents of Children with Cancer: Are they Elevated Relative to Parents of Healthy Children?

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ObjectiveTo examine posttraumatic stress symptoms (PTSS) in parents of children with cancer as a function of time since diagnosis, treatment status, and relapse history, and as compared to parents of healthy children.MethodParticipants included parents of 199 children with cancer, comprising a cross-sectional sample of diagnoses and treatment phases, ranging from currently on therapy to long-term survivors, and 108 parents of healthy children obtained via acquaintance control methods. Parents completed a standardized self-report measure of PTSS.ResultsWithin the cancer group, parental report of PTSS differed as a function of treatment status and time since diagnosis. Parents of children on active treatment endorsed similar levels of PTSS as control parents, whereas parents of children off treatment reported significantly lower levels of PTSS than did controls. Similarly, parents of long-term survivors reported significantly lower levels of PTSS than did controls, while parents of recently diagnosed children did not differ from controls on PTSS. In contrast, parents of children who had suffered a relapse reported significantly higher levels of PTSS, and were much more likely to be identified as a posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) case.ConclusionsAs a group, parents of children with cancer did not demonstrate any evidence of increased PTSS relative to parents of healthy children. Time since diagnosis, child treatment status, and relapse history are significant determinants of parent PTSS. Only parents of children who experienced a relapse appear to be at increased risk of PTSD. The current results appear discrepant from the existing literature, and possible explanations for these discrepancies are examined.

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