Mothers with late-stage cancer who have dependent children have serious parenting concerns leading to poor quality of life among these women, a new study by University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center researchers, indicates.
Parenting concerns contribute significantly to the psychological distress of mothers with metastatic cancer, finds the study published in Cancer, pointing to a need for greater support for mothers with metastatic cancer.
Cancer is the leading cause of disease-specific death for parenting-age women in the United States, and women with incurable cancer who have children can have increased rates of depression and anxiety. To better understand how parenting concerns might relate to the quality of life for this group, UNC Lineberger researchers surveyed 224 mothers with advanced cancer. They found that parenting concerns were significantly associated with lower quality of life - almost as much as declines in day-to-day physical functioning.
In this study, Park and her colleagues conducted an online survey of women who had stage IV solid tumor cancer -- cancer that had metastasized or spread elsewhere in the body -- and at least one child under the age of 18 years. They found mothers with metastatic cancer had, on average, higher depression and anxiety scores than did the general population in the United States. Their emotional well-being scores also were lower than for all adults with cancer.
The researchers determined a mother's emotional well-being was significantly linked with whether she had communicated with her children about her illness and her concerns about how her illness will financially impact her children.
When they took into account other factors that may contribute to a mother's lower quality of life, Park and her colleagues found parenting concerns made up 39 percent of the difference in the quality of life scores. This was almost the same impact on their quality of life score as the degree to which their illness was affecting their ability to carry out day-to-day tasks.
"We found is that parenting-related factors contributed to the amount of variation you see in quality of life almost equally as something like your functional status," Park said.
Based on these findings, Park and her colleagues are planning to investigate ways to address some of the concerns patients with children have and to better support the parents.
"We're working to develop interventions for parents with advanced cancer or another serious illness to help them and their families adjust to the changes that occur with the diagnosis," Park said. "Part of the strategy may be helping them to learn how to communicate effectively with their other family members as well as their children, identifying future care planning needs if their illness gets worse, and providing education about how families can cope and promote resilience in their children."