Medical Professional Publications

Research Now: Vannatta Receives NCI Grant to Investigate Determinants of Social Difficulties for Pediatric Brain Tumor Survivors

Kathryn Vannatta, PhD, principal investigator, Center for Biobehavioral Health, has a history of funded research in pediatric psychology emphasizing social, emotional and behavioral outcomes of children affected by cancer and its treatment.Last month, she was awarded a grant from the National Cancer Institute (No. 1R01CA172723-01) to conduct a multi-site, multi-year investigation of individual and contextual risk factors for poor peer relationships and psychosocial maladjustment in children treated for intracranial tumors.

Social deficits, as well as medical and neuro-cognitive impairment, threaten both the short and long-term quality of life of children treated for brain tumors. In her previous research, classmates have described pediatric brain tumor survivors (PBTS) as socially withdrawn, victimized and excluded by peers, less liked, and having fewer friends than control classmates. Girls and children treated with radiation have the worst outcomes, but social impairment is not limited to them. These difficulties, particularly as reported by peers, are strongly predictive of emotional, behavioral, and academic difficulties later in life, and PBTS demonstrate more of these deficits as adults than any other subgroup of pediatric cancer survivors.

The objective of this study is to identify the nature and extent of social information processing deficits in PBTS and determine if they, along with social-ecological factors, account for risk for social difficulties. The research team will recruit over 200 PBTS (ages 8-13, >1 year post-treatment) from 3 pediatric treatment centers: Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, and Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. Multiple methods (i.e., questionnaires, performance- based and analog measures, video-taped interactions with friends) and reporting sources (peer, teacher, mother, father, child) will be used in schools and homes to assess social competence (i.e., social information processing skills, social behavior and interactions, social adjustment) and contextual resources (i.e. parent-child relationship and parenting behavior, friendship quality, and school environment) that account for social competence. Identical data will be obtained for one control classmate per PBTS, matched for gender, race, and age to allow comparison to normal developmental processes. The overall goal of the research is to inform the development of interventions and clinical programs that can promote resilience for youth affected by medical conditions that involve the central nervous system.

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