Material, financial hardships common among families with a child in cancer treatment

little girl empty bowl hardship childhood cancer

Doctors and nurses do all they can to manage the medical and emotional trials of childhood cancer treatment. What they may be less aware of, though, are other hardships families face while their child is being treated, particularly when it comes to meeting basic needs.

A recent study in Pediatric Blood and Cancer provides a disturbing snapshot into those difficulties. In it, Kira Bona, MD, MPH, a pediatric oncologist with Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center, reveals that up to one-third of families with a child in cancer treatment experience food, housing or energy insecurity within six months of their child’s diagnosis; one-quarter lost more than 40 percent of household income.

Because the study looked only at families seen at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s, Bona worries that her findings may just be the tip of the iceberg.

“What it says is that even at a well-resourced, large referral center, about a third of families are reporting food, housing or energy insecurity six months into treatment,” she said in a statement. “If anything, the numbers in our study  are an underestimate of what might be seen at less well-resourced institutions, which was somewhat surprising to us.”

But there is a silver lining to the news. Because government agencies and philanthropic groups can help families get food and housing, clinicians may be able to help families address these kinds of material hardships more readily than financial ones.

“If household material hardship is linked to poorer outcomes in pediatric oncology, just like income is, then we can design interventions to fix food, housing and energy insecurity,” Bona said. “It’s not clear what you do about income in a clinical setting.”

Read Bona’s study to learn more.