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Correlates of Physiological and Psychological Stress Among Parents of Childhood Cancer and Brain Tumor Survivors



First, we sought to determine if parents of children with cancer or a brain tumor had greater stress compared to parents of healthy children and to evaluate the correlates of stress among parents of children with cancer or brain tumors. Second, we sought to examine the relationship between perceived stress and symptoms of stress and how that relationship may differ for parents of children with cancer.


In-person, interviewer-assisted surveys were administered to 73 case dyads (children with cancer or a brain tumor and their parents) and 133 comparison dyads (children without health problems and their parents from a community sample). Descriptive analyses and multivariable logistic regressions were performed for case-comparison and case-only analyses to distinguish correlates of parental stress.


Parents of children with cancer exhibited higher levels of physiological symptoms of stress than parents of healthy children. Poor sleep quality and greater social stress (negative social interactions) were significant correlates of increased levels of stress in parents of children with cancer (odds ratio 4.23, 95% confidence interval 1.15-15.60; and odds ratio 1.07, 95% confidence interval 1.00-1.14, respectively). A subset of parents reported symptoms of stress but not perceived stress, and this discordance was more pronounced among cancer caregivers.


Implementation of screening tools that include symptoms of stress may help clinicians to comprehensively identify parents of children with cancer who are in need of additional services. Targeted stress-reduction interventions that address sleep quality and negative social interactions may mitigate the deleterious effects of caregiving, improving the psychosocial well-being of both parents and children with cancer.

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