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Pediatric Supportive Care (PDQ®): Supportive care - Patient Information [NCI] - Psychological Adjustment

Most children who have cancer adjust well.

Cancer treatment is stressful on the child and the family. However, studies have shown that most children treated for cancer, and children who are long-term survivors of cancer, have few serious psychological problems.

Recommended Related to Cancer

About This PDQ Summary

Purpose of This Summary This PDQ cancer information summary for health professionals provides comprehensive, peer-reviewed, evidence-based information about treatment of plasma cell neoplasms (including multiple myeloma). It is intended as a resource to inform and assist clinicians who care for cancer patients. It does not provide formal guidelines or recommendations for making health care decisions. Reviewers and Updates This summary is reviewed regularly and updated as necessary...

Read the About This PDQ Summary article > >

The early days of treatment, when the child is often in the hospital, are usually the most stressful for the child and the family. The child may be anxious about being away from home and receiving new treatment. This anxiety usually decreases over time. Studies have reported that, in general, children treated for cancer have no differences from other children in self-esteem, hopefulness, depression, anxiety, or loneliness.

Children who have a lot of support from their family are less likely to have problems adjusting.

The type of cancer and the treatments used can affect adjustment.

Some of the factors that may increase the risk of social, emotional, or behavioral problems include:

Depression and Suicide

A small number of children may have problems that lead to depression or suicide.

Some studies have shown that physical and emotional distress related to cancer and its treatment can cause mental health problems in certain childhood cancer survivors. These problems include depression that needs treatment and can lead to suicide. Signs of depression include the following:

  • Feeling empty, worthless, unloved, or that life isn't worth living.
  • Feeling nervous, restless, or irritable.
  • Changes in appetite.
  • Low energy.
  • Sleep problems.
  • Decreased interest in activities.
  • Increased crying.

See the PDQ Supportive Care summary for more information about Depression in children.

Certain antidepressant medicines may cause suicidal thoughts or actions in children, teenagers, and young adults.

Drugs called SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) have been shown to decrease depression in young people. SSRIs usually have few side effects but they may cause suicidal thoughts or actions in young people (children, teenagers, and young adults). The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has warned that young people up to age 25 who are taking SSRIs should be watched closely for signs that the depression is getting worse, especially suicidal thinking or behavior. Close monitoring is especially important during the first four to eight weeks of treatment. The patient, family, and health care provider should discuss the risks and benefits of using SSRIs to treat depression.

The side effects of SSRIs have not been studied in children, adolescents, or young adults with cancer.

It is important that survivors of childhood cancer have regular mental health check-ups as part of follow-up care.

Follow-up cancer care may be given by the cancer treatment doctor or the main provider, such as the family doctor. It is important that regular mental health check-ups be part of this follow-up care. A patient who shows signs of depression or other mental health problems during follow-up care may be referred to a therapist or other mental health specialist. Many survivors get help from therapists who are experts in helping people who are recovering from cancer.

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WebMD Public Information from the National Cancer Institute

Last Updated: February 25, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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