Background Though surviving childhood cancer is a triumph for child and family, scars left on parents’ health may linger long after treatment has been concluded.
Aim To analyse the impact of childhood cancer on somatic health of parents during treatment (DT: median 5.5 months) and after (AT: median 2 years).
Methods Analysis of 70 questionnaires (45 DT, 25 AT) from parents of cancer patients, treated at the Department of Paediatrics, Oncology and Haematology, Medical University of Gdansk, Poland, since 2011.
Results Over 60% in both groups reported feeling physically worse since diagnosis and constantly worrying about their child. Parents DT had increased caffeine, nicotine and alcohol consumption, weight changes and hypertension. Two parents DT admitted to suicidal attempts, one developed cancer. Dermatological signs, mainly hair loss, were common both DT and AT. Both groups had sleeping difficulties; however, more AT experienced nightmares (20% vs. 7% DT) and felt anxious and tired (60% vs. 33% DT). Headaches, problems concentrating and migraines prevailed AT (60%, 44% and 28% vs. 44%, 29% and 7% DT; respectively). Cardiologic symptoms (tachycardia, dyspnea), gastrointestinal (gastroesophageal reflux, diarrhoea) and joint/bone pains predominated AT. 28% of parents AT felt unhappy with their intimate relationship (vs. 9% DT). Only 20% of parents consulted with psychiatrist.
Conclusion Diagnosis of paediatric cancer leaves devastating somatic sequelae in parents, affecting all systems and life activities. Interestingly, parents AT report somatic complications more often than those DT. Medical assistance should be promoted for parents of cancer children even after termination of oncologic therapy.