Friends and family, especially parents, are an important source of social support for child and adolescent cancer survivors, according to a systematic review of research published in Psycho-Oncology.

Researchers conducted a search for articles on social support among young cancer survivors narrowing down the studies to 10 cross-sectional studies, of which 7 included only a narrative analysis and 3 employed mixed methods. The researchers noted that although all the studies focused on child and adolescent perceptions of social support, none distinguished between actual social support received and perceived social support.

The participants in the included studies ranged in age from 8 to 18 years. The total sample of survivors was 716, although individual study samples ranged in size from 25 to 141 survivors. The most common type of cancer was leukemia.

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Four studies analyzed sources of social support. According to the study that examined child and adolescent perceptions of support while receiving treatment for cancer in the hospital, parents were perceived to be the greatest source of support (M, 28.64; SD, 2.53), followed by friends (M, 18.82; SD, 7.61), and “a special person” (M, 9.50; SD, 5.47).  The study of leukemia survivors found parents were the greatest source of support for 94% of survivors. The other studies included teachers, as well family and friends, as important sources of support.

Perceptions of social support were mixed when gender was considered. Mixed findings were also reported from the 3 studies that included age differences as a factor. One study found that younger age at assessment was associated with higher levels of family support (r, −0.023; P <.05) and peer support (r, −0.21; P <.05) for physical activity. Peer and family support were greater predictors of physical activity among survivors aged 12 to 16 years, whereas peer support was not as significant among those aged 8 to 11 years.

“The findings highlight the value of social support for childhood cancer survivors and how it is related, both positively and negatively, to a number of outcome variables, such as posttraumatic growth, school re-entry, physical activity, psychological symptoms, and a number of other psychosocial outcomes,” the researchers wrote. This study demonstrates that childhood cancer survivors get social support from several sources, with family — especially parents — and friends being the most influential source.

Deegan A, Brennan C, Gallagher P, et al. Social support and childhood cancer survivors: A systematic review (2006–2022). Psychooncology. Published online March 26, 2023. doi:10.1002/pon.6128