(Reuters) - Children whose parents have cancer
often suffer post-traumatic stress symptoms
that adults underestimate, Dutch researchers
said on Wednesday.
The study, which the researchers said was the
first to track post traumatic stress symptoms
in adolescents over an extended period of time,
found many children of cancer patients suffered
telltale signs of the disorder.
These symptoms included recurring
nightmares, an inability to stop thinking about
the disease as well as conscious efforts to
avoid hearing or knowing anything about their
parent's condition, they told the European Cancer
"We thought the symptoms
would decline after time but even after one
to five years after the diagnosis, the children
still had symptoms," said Gea Huizinga,
a health scientist at the University Medical
Centre in Groningen, who led the study.
Experts say post traumatic stress
disorder symptoms include irritability or outbursts
of anger, sleep difficulties, trouble concentrating,
extreme vigilance and an exaggerated startle
response. A person may initially respond to
the trauma with horror or helplessness, then
may persistently relive the event.
The recently completed study
did not actually test whether children had the
disorder but rather looked for symptoms of PTSD
in 49 youths aged 11 to 18 years old starting
during the first year after a parent's cancer
After first learning a parent
had cancer, 29 percent of the children showed
post traumatic stress symptoms serious enough
to justify psychological help, the researchers
This number dropped by the end
of the first year as kids seemed to adjust to
the fact a parent had cancer, especially if
the parent's health improved, Huizinga said.
But surprisingly, as time wore
on, another group of children started showing
an increase of symptoms, perhaps due to the
cancer returning or having the time to think
more -- and fret -- about the disease, she added.
"We thought the symptoms
would decline over time," Huizinga said.
The study also found that girls
seemed to have the most problems, perhaps because
these children may feel responsible for taking
on more duties at home with a sick parent, Huizinga
The team also suggested that
the effect on children whose parents have cancer
was bigger than many serious, chronic diseases
because dying from cancer was so possible.
"We think cancer may have
more impact because a parent might die of the
disease," Huizinga said. "With a lot
of chronic diseases that is often not the case."