More than 75% of children diagnosed with cancer in the United States are alive 5 years after diagnosis, compared to about approximately 60% in the mid-1970's. Although childhood cancer survival rates have sharply risen over the past 25 years, these improvements in survival rates are the result of increasingly intense treatments that place high demands on children and their families. The literature supports the contention that mothers of children diagnosed with cancer represent a group prone to high levels of emotion distress and the start of treatment may be particularly traumatic. Due to this claim, there is a need for increased understanding of the psychological impact of these experiences, especially among the United State's fastest growing minority population, Hispanics.

Not only do Hispanic children have a worse 5-year cancer survival rate, perceptions of the traditional United States medical system and the perceived trauma of a child's illness may be influence by various cultural factors which could vastly different for Hispanic mothers. These factors illustrate the importance and contribution of socio-cultural characteristics to parental adjustment and the importance of pursuing this area of research. A particular focus of this research project is to understand the psychological impact for Spanish-speaking mothers compared to English-speaking mothers who are co-residing with a child newly diagnosed with cancer. We are particularly interested in whether there are differences in the psychological reactions between these groups of mothers of children with cancer. For the purpose of this study, demographic and baseline psychological assessment data will be analyzed from a large pre-existing dataset from seven pediatric cancer centers in the United States.

The purpose of this study is to investigate maternal distress and problem-solving skills of Latina and non-Latina mothers at the time of their child's cancer diagnosis. Even without an ill child, the difficult process of acculturation experienced by immigrant families is associated with the loss of supportive family, social, and cultural relationships; higher levels of poverty; interrupted maternal education; and increased emotional demands and distress. These life experiences have also been found to exacerbate the perceived stress of a child's illness. Since family and social support networks are very important to Latino life and culture, the loss of these supports combined with a child's cancer diagnosis leads us to hypothesize that independent of socioeconomic status, Spanish-speaking mothers will report greater distress and therefore poorer problem-solving skills than English-speaking mothers. We hope that these data can inform future interventions to address the unique needs and aspects of the most rapidly growing minority group in the United States. While research has focused on family functioning in the months following diagnosis and treatment, few studies have examined parental distress at the time of cancer diagnosis and no work has examined differences in distress associated with cultural background.

By Alison Pilsner (PA LEND)