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Parental terminal cancer and dependent children: a systematic review

Wray, Alexandra ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0003-1743-0288, Seymour, Julie, Greenley, Sarah and Boland, Jason M. (2022) Parental terminal cancer and dependent children: a systematic review. BMJ Supportive & Palliative Care.

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Background When a parent has terminal cancer, their children are part of that experience. Parents often want to protect their children from their disease and prognosis. Knowledge of dependent children’s experience will help ensure they receive appropriate support. To date, there is lack of synthesis of this evidence examining children’s perspectives.

Objectives To systematically search and synthesise the qualitative literature exploring the experiences of dependent children when their parent has terminal cancer.

Methods Databases of MEDLINE, Embase, PsycINFO, CINAHL, Assia and the Cochrane library were searched systematically from inception to July 2020 to determine eligible studies. Included studies were appraised for quality and thematically synthesised using Thomas and Harden’s thematic synthesis framework.

Results Fourteen studies were included, which interviewed children about their experiences (n=654 children aged 4–18 years at the time of parental death), from six countries. Five descriptive themes were identified, further categorised into two broad themes: (1) finding out about parental cancer and its impact on the family and (2) coping with life with parental cancer, death and beyond.

Conclusion Children want to be involved in their parent’s cancer experience and to help support the family. Healthcare professionals are ideally placed to support and encourage parents to include their children. They should reassure parents that children can cope well and that maintaining normality will help, and explain the benefits of honest and open communication and how they can include dependent children from diagnosis and beyond.

Item Type: Article
Status: Published
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmjspcare-2021-003094
School/Department: School of Science, Technology and Health
URI: https://ray.yorksj.ac.uk/id/eprint/7577

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