Surviving Survival: New Study Reveals Children After Cancer

First Posted: Nov 28, 2013 11:55 AM EST

As treatments for childhood brain tumors improve, more and more children are managing to survive past their childhoods. In fact, some say that up to 90 percent survive; yet what happens after this survival, and what can we do to help these survivors during the rest of their lives? Now, scientists have looked a bit closer at the caregivers of these survivors in the largest study of its kind.

In order to better understand what happens after survival, the researchers investigated the caregivers of 186 mothers to childhood brain tumor survivors aged 14-40 whose care needs lasted long into adulthood. The scientists based their research on a model containing factors central to nursing practice, mainly the caregiver, the survivor and the family.

So what did they find? It turns out that a complex interact among components of the model, the health of the caregivers, the demands experienced by the caregiver, the caregiver's perceptions about the health of the survivor and the family's support interact to explain how the caregiver assesses herself in her role.

"Based on the results of this study, either family functioning or caregiver's perception about the survivor's health can be targeted to improve competence for caregivers of adolescent and young adult brain tumor survivors," said Janet Deatrick, one of the researchers, in a news release. "Interventions targeted to survivor health could emphasize recovery expectations and reframe notions about the survivor's functioning through family systems and cognitive-behavioral interventions."

The tumors and treatment for children can result in a range of late effects, including one of the most severe risk profiles for childhood cancer survivors and for their caregivers. The researchers also tested a hypothesized model which confirmed that both the functioning of the family and the health of the survivor contributed to the caregiver's sense of competence.

The findings actually offer hope for families in the future. Researchers and medical personnel can target either family functioning or the health of the survivor as means of improving the competence of caregivers. This, in turn, could give caregivers a way to better take care of their patients.

The findings are published in the journal Health Psychology.

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