Parents can boost academic performance of childhood cancer survivors

July 10, 2014 | by

Survival rates for childhood cancer have improved tremendously over the past few decades, but postcancer care hasn't always kept up. More children than ever are now coping with long-term complications and side effects caused by their disease and treatment — one of those being learning difficulties.

City of Hope research shows parent intervention may help childhood cancer survivors improve their performance in school.

City of Hope research shows parent intervention may help childhood cancer survivors improve their performance in school.

A new study, published last month in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology and led by City of Hope researchers, suggests that parents can reduce the impact of cancer and cancer treatment on their children's academic performance.

“It is possible to improve the child’s adaptive functioning in his or her daily life,” said lead author and neuropsychologist Sunita Patel, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Population Sciences and Department of Supportive Care Medicine at City of Hope. “For the educational realm, parents can facilitate this by helping the child establish good study strategies and to teach the child that learning requires active engagement and effort.”

For the study, researchers analyzed the academic performance of childhood cancer survivors who had cancer treatment affecting their central nervous system. This group of survivors tends to experience long-term cognitive side effects, making it harder for them to retain information in school.

Parents of the children were randomly assigned to one of two groups. The first group received an intervention designed to promote academic functioning in their children; the second group was assigned to a “wait list” control group. The result? Children of parents in the intervention group performed better on objective, standardized tests of academic achievement compared to the control group.

Researchers found other benefits for the parents in the intervention group as well, such as more knowledge about, and greater confidence in, their ability to impact their child’s learning and school success. The intervention group parents also were more likely to directly monitor schoolwork, have contact with the school and promote cognitively stimulating activities – all activities linked to learning.

Although making specific recommendations based on one study is premature, Patel said, it's clear that a parent-directed intervention to help promote academic functioning in childhood cancer survivors is feasible and effective.

“I would encourage parents of childhood cancer survivors to actively motivate and monitor their children’s learning and school functioning,” Patel said.

Other City of Hope researchers involved in the study included Paula Ross, Ph.D., Heeyoung Kim, M.A., Tracy T. Y. Lo., Ph.D. and Smita Bhatia, M.D., M.P.H., the Ruth Ziegler Chair in Population Sciences.

Research reported in this publication was supported by the National Institutes of Health under grant number R03-CA130731. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Cancer Institute or the National Institutes of Health.