Intended for healthcare professionals


Telling children about a parent's cancer

BMJ 2000; 321 doi: (Published 19 August 2000) Cite this as: BMJ 2000;321:462

Parents want help but don't get it

  1. Duncan Keeley, general practitioner
  1. The Health Centre, Thame, Oxfordshire OX9 3JZ

    Papers p 479

    No one finds it easy to break bad news. Doctors' frequent failure to do this well has been extensively documented and analysed. The need for better training has been recognised, and our practice is, hopefully, improving. But recipients of bad news then have to decide how to tell those close to them. Knowing what to say to children can seem particularly difficult. A study in this week's BMJ (p 479) suggests that there is an unmet need in giving help with this task.1 Barnes and colleagues interviewed 32 mothers with stage I or stage II breast cancer four to six months after they had been diagnosed to explore the timing and extent of communication about the diagnosis to their children. A fifth of children had been given no information at the time their mothers had surgery. Women who had higher levels of education gave less information to their children. Many women expressed a wish to meet with “a health professional with expertise in understanding and talking to children” to discuss how to communicate the diagnosis: only a few had actually been given such help.

    Who might …

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