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Social Challenges for Kids Who Survive Cancer

Extra Effort to Build Self-Esteem, Academic Abilities, Social Skills May Help
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WebMD Health News

Sept. 12, 2005 -- Childhood cancer survivors may fare better academically and socially with some extra help.

Three key areas stand out: the child's self-esteem, social skills, and educational abilities. That's according to a study by Maru Barrera, PhD, and colleagues.

Barrera works at the University of Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children. The study appears in Cancer.

More Childhood Cancer Survivors

Medical advances are helping more kids survive cancer. Researchers want to know how those children fare later on and what helps them thrive.

Barrera and colleagues studied 800 childhood cancer survivors and 923 children of the same age who hadn't had cancer. The children were 17 years old or younger. Cancer survivors had lived for at least five years after their diagnosis.

Barrera didn't talk to the childhood cancer survivors. Instead, surveys were mailed to the children's parents. Topics included school, friends, and self-esteem.

Most Kids Fine

The parents' responses showed that most of the childhood cancer survivors were doing fine at school and with friends.

However, childhood cancer survivors had more academic and social problems than kids who had never had cancer, according to the parents' reports.

Academic, Social Findings

The academic findings include:

  • Grade repetition: 21% of cancer survivors vs. 9% of those who had never had cancer.
  • Programs for learning disabilities: 19% of cancer survivors vs. 7% of those who had never had cancer.
  • Programs for special education: 20% of cancer survivors vs. 8% of those who had never had cancer.
  • Educational or other school problems: 46% of cancer survivors vs. 23% who had never had cancer.

    The social findings include:

  • No close friends: 19% of cancer survivors vs. 8% of those who had never had cancer.
  • Likely to confide in friends: 57% of cancer survivors vs. 67% of those who had never had cancer.

Cancer Type, Treatments

The researchers also noted cancer type and cancer treatments.

Survivors of brain cancers were the most likely to reportedly have educational problems and no close friends. They were followed by survivors of leukemia.

Brain radiation was linked to a higher chance of having educational problems and no close friends, write the researchers.

What Helped

Childhood cancer survivors with high self-esteem tended to do better at school and with friends than those with lower self-esteem, the parents' surveys showed.

"Survivors who reportedly had high self-esteem and whose parents had postsecondary education had fewer educational and social problems," write the researchers.

They call for future studies that include childhood cancer survivors' report cards, teachers, and peers, as well as the kids' parents. Such studies could add more information about how young cancer survivors are doing, the researchers note.

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