Psychological distress in cancer patients with underage children: gender-specific differences


Correspondence to: Department of Medical Psychology and Medical Sociology, University of Leipzig, Ph.-Rosenthal-Str. 55, D-04103 Leipzig, Germany. E-mail:



Findings on gender differences in the psychological distress of cancer patients have been inconsistent. The objectives of the current study were to examine whether being a parent differentially modulates anxiety and depression in men and women and to compare whether psychological distress differs in male and female patients with and without children.


There were 235 patients (77% female, 23% male) with different cancer types included in the group with underage children (age <18 years). The comparison group with no children comprised 85 patients. Psychological distress was assessed via the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale within 12 months after first diagnosis or during treatment of metastases.


In the patient group with underage children, women tended to report more anxiety than men. The comparison with the patient group without children, however, revealed that men were significantly more affected by anxiety when they had children, whereas in women, anxiety ratings did not differ between the groups. Men tended to report more depressive symptoms, but depression was not differentially associated with parenthood. A binary logistic regression showed that in men with cancer, anxiety, as well as depression, was highly related to unemployment. In women, occurrence of metastases as well as suffering from other cancer types than breast cancer was associated with higher ratings of anxiety.


Even though our findings need to be supported in future investigations using larger sample sizes, they imply that male cancer patients with underage children are in particular need of psychosocial support. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.