Michelle A. Fortier, Crystle-Joie Agbayani, Jo A. Tucker, Edward L. Nelson, Freddy Martinez, Haydee Cortes, Dina Khoury, Zeev N. Kain, Carol Lin, Lilibeth Torno; 2022 Jan 7; DOI: 10.1007/s00520-021-06770-0; PMID: 34994860.


Purpose: Research has shown that parents of children with cancer exhibit an altered immune profile compared to parents of healthy children, reflective of increased susceptibility to illness. These parents are also at risk for poorer psychosocial outcomes and quality of life. The current study compares peripheral blood cell analyses and psychosocial self-reports from parents of children being treated for cancer (n = 21) to parents of healthy children (n = 30).

Methods: A blood sample was drawn from parents to analyze immune profiles. Parents also completed the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS), Medical Outcomes Study Short Form-36 (MOS), and Patient-Reported Outcomes Measurement Information System Short Form v1.0 Emotional Distress-Anxiety 8a, and Emotional Distress-Depression 8a (PROMIS). Mann-Whitney U tests and independent samples t-tests were conducted to examine differences in outcomes between parent groups.

Results: Parents of children with cancer exhibited higher monocyte percentages in their peripheral blood compared to peers with healthy children. Parents of children with cancer also reported poorer psychosocial outcomes: higher perceived stress, higher anxiety and depression symptoms, more role disability resulting from emotional problems, poorer general and mental health, and poorer social functioning.

Conclusion: These findings support research that has shown a direct effect of chronic stress on the immune system. Symptoms reported by parents of children with cancer indicate unmet psychosocial needs that could potentially affect long-term health. Given the central role of parents in their children’s cancer care, it is compelling to address and work to improve parent immunological and psychosocial well-being.