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Keywords:

  • adjustment;
  • anxiety;
  • childhood cancer;
  • parents;
  • post-traumatic stress

Abstract

Background

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has been put forth as a model for understanding the adjustment of children with cancer and their parents, but findings in the literature regarding the prevalence of post-traumatic stress symptoms (PTSS) have been mixed. This study examined PTSS levels in both patients and parents as a function of time elapsed from diagnosis, and by use of parent versus child reports for assessing patient PTSS.

Procedure

Four groups of patients (total N = 162) differing in time elapsed since diagnosis were assessed with standardized measures of PTSS. Patients reported on their own symptoms, while parents reported on their symptoms as well as symptoms in their child.

Results

Significant differences between groups were observed on all patient PTSS measures. Recently diagnosed patients obtained higher PTSS scores than survivors more than 5 years from diagnosis. Likewise, parents of recently diagnosed patients self-reported significantly higher levels of PTSS than parents of long-term survivors. Parent–child correlations were high and no differences were observed between parent and patient report of patient PTSS. Comparison with historical control data suggests that levels of PTSS in patients are very low.

Conclusion

Concordance between parent and child reports of child PTSS suggests that data may be obtained with reasonable confidence from either if only one informant is available. Higher levels of PTSS in patients who are recently diagnosed (and their parents) in comparison to long-term survivors, suggest that the symptoms reported reflect primarily a concurrent response to ongoing acute stressors, rather than a post-traumatic re-experiencing of past traumas. This, in combination with the low levels of patient PTSS raise questions regarding the utility of PTSD as a model for understanding patient and parent adjustment to childhood cancer. © 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.