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If Child Has Cancer, Parents Often Unprepared for Death

Intellectual and emotional preparation may help prevent later depression

MONDAY, July 23 (HealthDay News) -- Physicians can help parents become intellectually and emotionally aware of a child's impending death from cancer, which may decrease the risk of depression, particularly in fathers, according to a report published online July 20 in The Lancet Oncology.

In 2001, Unnur Valdimarsdottir, Ph.D., of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, and colleagues surveyed 449 Swedish parents who had lost a child to cancer between 1992 and 1997.

The researchers found that 112 parents (26 percent) reported a short intellectual awareness time (less than 24 hours) and 195 parents (45 percent) reported a short emotional awareness time (less than 24 hours). A lack of information about the child's fatal condition significantly increased the risk of a short intellectual awareness time (relative risk, 3.6 for mothers and 2.9 for fathers) and a short emotional awareness time (RR, 1.5 for mothers and 1.7 for fathers). Compared to fathers with a longer emotional awareness time, fathers with a short emotional awareness time had an increased risk of depression (RR, 1.8) and exiting the work force due to sick leave or early retirement (RR, 8.5).

"As an implication of our findings, health care professionals have a central role in promoting parents' intellectual and emotional awareness by, when possible, making an explicit transition from curative to palliative care, and by providing accurate information on the child's incurable condition," the authors conclude.

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