Child's cancer may not boost parents' divorce risk

NEW YORK Tue Apr 10, 2012 3:37pm EDT

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NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Parents of children with cancer may be under emotional strain, but they are no more likely than other couples to split up, a new study concludes.

Researchers found that among more than 47,000 Danish couples with children, parents of kids with cancer were no more likely than other parents to divorce or separate over the years.

"There has been a fear that such a traumatic event as having a child diagnosed with cancer could lead to divorce," said Dr. Christoffer Johansen of the Danish Cancer Society Research Center in Copenhagen, who worked on the study.

"Overall, we did not see that," Johansen told Reuters Health. "What we see is, you are simply able to cope."

Of course, some parents of children with cancer break up, Johansen said. But these findings suggest the rate is no higher than average.

Johansen and his colleagues report their findings in the journal Pediatrics.

The study is based on public registry data for the parents of 2,450 children who were diagnosed with cancer between 1980 and 1997, and the parents of 44,853 cancer-free kids.

Each child with cancer was matched with about 18 kids of the same sex and age.

Over 20 years, Johansen's team found, parents of children with cancer were no more likely to divorce or -- in the case of unmarried cohabitating parents -- to split up.

That was with factors like the parents' employment status and household income taken into account.

Whether or not the child survived the cancer also had no significant influence on the results, the researchers found.

"The number of divorces was no higher than would be expected for the general population," Johansen said.

"I think this is quite reassuring," he added.

The study was done in Denmark, and there are, Johansen noted, cultural differences from country to country -- including views on marriage and divorce, and women's role in the family (in Denmark working moms are far more common than stay-at-home moms).

But, he said, "in principle" his team's findings could be generalized to other countries.

The findings do not, of course, mean that no couples face relationship problems after their child is diagnosed with cancer. If parents do feel like they need help, they may be able to find it through a community group, Johansen said.

In Denmark, that would be an organization like the Danish Cancer Society. The American Cancer Society is the U.S. counterpart; a child's cancer center may also offer some type of counseling for families.

SOURCE: bit.ly/HFAGq2 Pediatrics, online April 9, 2012.

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