In a recent study, researchers found that experiencing the death of a child may increase the risk of mortality in a patient with cancer. Findings of the study were reported in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.

“Bereavement may induce adverse changes in health behaviors and in neuroendocrine and immune activity, which in turn may influence cancer development and prognosis,” the researchers explained in their report.

The researchers used population-based registry data from Sweden to evaluate survival outcomes for patients whose cancer was diagnosed between the years 1973 and 2014.


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A total of 371,673 patients included in this analysis were parents with cancer, of whom 4099 had lost at least 1 child during follow-up. Risks of overall and long-term mortality was elevated in patients who experienced the death of a child (hazard ratio [HR], 1.27; 95% CI, 1.17-1.39). The researchers reported that this association existed regardless of whether the child died from what were deemed natural or unnatural causes.

Short-term mortality risk appeared not to be affected by the death of a child (HR, 0.95; 95% CI, 0.78-1.15). However, an increase in mortality risk was apparent with a follow-up of 5 or more years (HR, 1.42; 95% CI, 1.29-1.56). This increase in mortality risk was linked to both cancer and causes beyond the cancer itself.

Reportedly, mortality risk was especially associated with factors such as the death of a child aged 18 years or older or the death of an only child. By type of cancer, the association with mortality was strongest in the setting of a reproductive cancer.

“Our findings highlight the importance of psychosocial support for patients with cancer experiencing severe stress,” the researchers concluded in their report.

Reference

Wang Y, Wei D, Chen H, Chen B, Li J, Lásló KD. Death of a child and mortality after cancer: a nationwide cohort study in Sweden. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. Published online October 20, 2020. doi:10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-20-0842