Caregivers’ anxiety/depression symptoms may affect quality of life (QOL) for children with cancer, according to results of a study of caregivers of children with a cancer diagnosis. The study’s findings were published in the Journal of Psychosocial Oncology.1
“Findings from this study strongly support the need to attend to caregiver mental health symptoms,” reported the research team.
Caregivers of children diagnosed with cancer can be prone to increased anxiety/depression symptoms. Family functioning also may undergo changes during the course of the child’s illness. The researchers who conducted the study set out to evaluate effects of caregiver distress and changes to family functioning on the QOL of children with cancer, in a longitudinal manner during the early periods of diagnosis and treatment.
Participants recruited for this study were caregivers who had a child with a newly diagnosed cancer of any type who was not receiving palliative care. Families were made aware of the study 2 to 4 weeks after the child’s diagnosis, and, if interested, were approached about participation. Participating families were entered into either an intervention group or a control group.
The intervention group received a family psychosocial risk summary based on results of the Psychosocial Assessment Tool completed by the child’s primary caregiver; participants in the control group did not receive such a summary. Caregivers completed several questionnaires covering anxiety/depression symptoms, family functioning, and the child’s QOL at baseline and at a 6-month follow-up. Child QOL was evaluated as both cancer-specific and more broadly as generic QOL, as assessed by caregivers.
Caregivers of 96 pediatric patients with cancer participated in the baseline assessment, and caregivers of 82 patients participated in the follow-up assessment. In the baseline assessment, 60.4% of caregivers reportedly had clinical levels of anxiety/depression symptoms, with 47.6% having clinical levels of these symptoms at the 6-month follow-up.
The researchers found that anxiety/depression symptoms in caregivers were significantly linked to worse cancer-related and generic QOL in children with cancer, and this appeared to be the case both within each time point and across the time points. Family conflict was associated with poorer generic QOL in children near the start of the study, and to worse cancer-related and generic QOL at the later measurement. Older caregiver age was also associated with poorer cancer-related QOL in the child near the start of the study.
“Although caregivers are at risk of experiencing elevated symptoms of anxiety and depression across the first year from diagnosis, their needs are often not adequately identified and addressed,” the study investigators noted, concluding that interventions aimed at helping caregivers should also support family-centered care.
Desjardins L, Solomon A, Shama W, et al. The impact of caregiver anxiety/depression symptoms and family functioning on child quality of life during pediatric cancer treatment: from diagnosis to 6 months. J Psychosoc Oncol. Published online January 12, 2022. doi:10.1080/07347332.2021.2015646