Medical Professional Publications

Parents Overestimate Child’s Cancer Prognosis

(From the May 2013 Issue of Pediatrics Online)

Cynthia A. Gerhardt, PhD

Parents of children with cancer tend to overestimate their child’s prognosis relative to physicians. Cynthia A. Gerhardt, PhD, principal investigator for the Center for Biobehavior Health at The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s, is the first to examine the effect of multiple factors on parents’ understanding of their child’s cancer prognosis, including health literacy.

Families were recruited three to eight weeks after a child’s new diagnosis or relapse of cancer. Parents completed questionnaires regarding their sources of medical information, age and education. The child’s oncologist reported on the content of their communication with parents regarding prognosis. Both groups were then asked to estimate the child’s chance of a five-year survival using a visual-analogue scale.

Dr. Gerhardt found that mothers and fathers reported a more favorable prognosis for their child, which was on average about 30 percent higher than oncologists. Agreement between oncologists and parents was better for younger fathers, but it was unrelated to physician communication, sources of medical information or other demographic factors. The study was published in Pediatric Blood Cancer last fall.

“Father’s age may be important to their understanding of their child’s cancer prognosis, but we did not find support for other factors related to prognosis literacy,” says Dr. Gerhardt.

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