Intended for healthcare professionals


Cancer in parents: telling children

BMJ 1998; 316 doi: (Published 21 March 1998) Cite this as: BMJ 1998;316:880

Sensitive communication can reduce psychological problems

  1. Leanda Kroll, Senior registrar in child psychiatry,
  2. Jacqueline Barnes, Senior lecturer in psychology,
  3. Alison L Jones, Consultant medical oncologist,
  4. Alan Stein, Professor
  1. Tavistock Centre, London NW3 5BA
  2. Royal Free Hampstead NHS Trust, London NW3 2QG
  3. Leopold Muller University Department of Child and Family Mental Health, Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine, London NW3 2PF

    Children of cancer patients “represent a hidden, high risk group whose problems are minimised by overwhelmed parents and unknown to the medical staff who seldom see them.”1 A recent editorial in the BMJ highlighted the difficulties doctors have in communicating the news of a cancer diagnosis to their patients.2 How much harder must it be for parents with newly diagnosed cancer to tell their children while coming to terms with the implications themselves? Cancer in a parent is an issue that confronts many families. For example, breast cancer affects one in 12 women in Britain,3 30% of whom are likely to be diagnosed while they have children still living at home.4

    Good doctor-patient communication about the diagnosis and shared decision making over treatment are crucial and have a protective effect on patients' psychological adjustment,5 and useful …

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