Background: Pediatric oncology diagnoses are distressing to caregivers. However, researchers have not investigated the impact that the type of cancer diagnosis has on caregiver anxiety, depression, distress, and family functioning. The purpose of this study was to longitudinally investigate the early trajectory of caregiver psychological symptoms of anxiety, depression, distress, and family functioning near diagnosis and 6 months later by cancer type, and to examine the demographic factors that may be associated with caregiver emotional and family functioning outcomes.
Methods: Caregivers (n = 122) of children with a recent diagnosis of leukemia/lymphoma or solid tumor completed self-report measures of psychological and family functioning (Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale, Distress Thermometer, and Family Environment Scale).
Results: In general, caregivers endorsed elevated psychological symptoms at the time of diagnosis, which decreased 6 months later. Caregivers of children with solid tumors endorsed greater anxiety across time than caregivers of children with leukemia/lymphoma did. In addition to caring for a child with a solid tumor, female sex, non-White ethnicity, and non-English language spoken in the home were factors associated with anxious and depressive symptoms and poorer family functioning.
Conclusion: When creating psychosocial interventions for families of children with cancer, the unique demands of solid tumor treatments, the caregiver's sex, and cultural characteristics must be considered to promote coping, resiliency, and problem-solving skills around the time of diagnosis, particularly in more vulnerable families.