Psychological Impact on a Child with Cancer

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Cancer is a word that has become too popular, and a disease that has ruined too many lives. Cancer is a painful disease where abnormal cells grow out control and spread throughout the body destroying the body tissues. These abnormal cells divide, pushing the normal cells out and continue to grow forming tumors. These tumors then push on the bones or organs and can cause tremendous pain. Cancer is a genetic disease but can also be from environmental exposures as well. There are many different types of cancers that tend to be named after the organs or tissues from where the cancer arises (National Institute of Cancer, 2015).

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Cancer is a disease that can be treated in some circumstances, but not in all. There are three most common treatments for cancer: surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Depending on the stage of how bad your cancer is the treatment varies. Getting treated for cancer can be a lengthy process that can have negative side effects on the body. These treatments can be an ongoing procedure that can cause exhaustion and pain. This can become very hard for the patient and their family (Marcus, 2012, p. 211-215).

Cancer is not only a disease that affects the body, but also affects one psychologically. Cancer is becoming a huge problem in today’s society and many people do not consider the psychological effects it has on a child. It calls for a total change in the child and families daily lives. It is one thing to have a child with cancer, but being able to take a step back and understand what cancer can do psychologically from the child’s point of view is important (Marcus, 2012, p. 211-215).

A child with cancer faces many different obstacles that one should never have to face. They feel pain physically, socially, emotionally, and behaviorally. Their self-esteem is often at an all time low, which can cause serious depression and anxiety. Children can also become stressed from the intense and long treatments. Children have different coping skills from adults, and it can be very hard for them to deal with this traumatic experience. This disease is something that can be fatal or that the child will have to deal with for their entire life. With appointments and doctor visits, their life will be consumed with this whether or not the cancer is treated (Marcus, 2012, p. 211-215).

Children with cancer struggle with many things that can lower their self-esteem. As we know, children are in a developmental stage in their life, and having cancer can play a huge toll on that. It can interrupt the way they are identified causing the child to feel low about their self (Marcus, 2012, p. 211-215).

Laila M. Sherief et al. (2015) stated that their study of 178 children receiving chemotherapy showed a significant low level of self-esteem in 84.83% of patients. The study was based on pediatric patients who were receiving chemotherapy for leukemia, the most common type of cancer in children. As you can see the children who are getting treated for cancer have a difficult time finding their identity; they are in a constant everyday battle (Laila M. Sherief et al, 2015).

The self-esteem of children with cancer is a social problem that needs to be looked at integratively. Integration involves taking two different concepts and combining them to create a new concept (Repko, 2017, p. 20). A child with cancer faces many different obstacles that one should never have to face and an integrative approach is important when looking at the impact that is problem has on them. Being able to examine this social issue from all different views will help create a better understanding of this matter and could help create awareness on how to help (Repko, 2017, p. 19-21).

Interdisciplinary research help bring the disciplines together by looking into different factors of a social problem. Looking at this social issue in an array is disciplines can help increase awareness and create better understanding of this matter to help these children. The biology and psychology of cancer is an area that can play a huge role in a children’s self esteem and can be looked at in an integrative approach (Repko, 2017, p. 19-21).

Cancer in children delays the normal development of self-image in many different ways. Body image can become something these children struggle with because of all the things they are going through. Their physical appearance can be altered because of treatments, fatigue, lumps, bruises etc. The biology from this disease and its treatments can bring physical changes to the body. Many receiving treatment can obtain hair loss, and hair loss can be a main factor when dealing with self-esteem; when you do not look your best, your self-esteem levels decrease, even in children. Also, not only does their hair fall out, but also scars, swelling, rashes, and weight loss/gain can come along with it. They additionally become very weak, which can decrease their athletic abilities (, 2017).

Children who are finding out who their friends are and who are evolving into the person they are going to become can feel alone when they notice all of their peers doing the things they can’t and have trouble finding people like them. They will have trouble getting people to become friends with them because they look different. The biology of cancer and its treatments have a major effect on self-esteem.


Psychology uses qualitative research and is part of the social sciences that experiments with studying the human behavior. It helps organize and maintain mental activity. Psychology uses experimenting through psychological functioning and environmental factors. When using psychology to study a human’s behavior it is important to have a control. The reason is it important to have a control is because it can allow for better conclusions when observing (Repko, 2017, p. 35-66).

In psychology there are two types of research: basic and applied research. Basic research is to gain understanding of the psychological process, and can help test theories or principles, whereas applied research is actually finding the solution that is either socially or behaviorally based. Applied research helps define a goal to find ultimate results (Repko, 2017, p. 35-66).

Sadruddin and Rehman (2013) did a study on children with cancer and their self-perception. They examined 78 children from the ages 7-12 who were in the process of receiving treatment. These children were asked to draw a picture of their self, categorizing these drawings into facial expressions, self-images and family ties. Sadruddin and Rehman (2013) explained that, “Children, particularly young ones are more natural and expressive through actions such as drawing,” (p. 2). These drawings helped show true feelings from these children in a very unique way. The most common characteristic drawn was facial expressions. These drawings all reflected sadness, anger and pain. The majority focused their drawings on their hair loss or missing body parts. This study showed that their self-esteem is at an all time low and that these children feel isolated and different because of these psychological factors (Sadruddin & Rehman, 2013, p. 1-6).

Barrera et al (2005) did a study comparing the educational and social outcomes of children who have survived cancer. They compared those who had survived cancer with a control group of those that were never diagnosed with cancer. They found that those diagnosed with cancer had many more educational and social problems than those without cancer (Barrera et al., 2005, p.1751-1755).

Barrera et al (2005) explained that “significantly more survivors than controls repeated a grade (21% vs. 9%), attended learning‐disability (19% vs. 7%) or special‐education programs (20% vs. 8%), had educational or other school problems (46% vs. 23%), had no close friends (19% vs. 8%), and were less likely to use friends as confidants (58% vs. 67%)” (Barrera et al., 2005, p.1751-1755). From educational difficulties to diminished friendships, this horrific disease has effects that are long-term and can be carried with these children for life (Barrera et al., 2005, p.1751-1755).

Chao-Hsing Yeh conducted a study that showed how children adapt to having cancer. He interviewed 34 pediatric patients, 23 boys and 11 girls, each with a different kind of diagnosis, from the ages of 4-17. This study showed how the participants adapted to this new lifestyle and how it varied from each person (Yeh, 2001, p.1-8).

The findings they discovered were that children changed their coping methods when certain situations arose. It showed that these children could go through many different clinical statuses in a small time frame. They used these coping methods to try and adapt to this new lifestyle but found themselves always wanting to go back to their old (normal) life. Children under the age of 11 responded differently than those older. They cried, complained, and acted out as a way to cope, whereas those who were older showed anger and fear by becoming impatient or asking about when procedures would end (Yeh, 2001, p.1-8). Cancer in children has many effects on how children act and view their life.


Biology uses quantitative research and is part of the natural sciences. It explains behavior by the genetic makeup of the physical living world. It is about identifying true causes that needs to be proven or disapproved. It must be concrete and logical, not an assumption. The scientific method is used to help create this proven or disproven data ((Repko, 2017, p. 35-66).

There are two different methods in biology: laboratory and developmental. Laboratory methods take different specimens out of their natural life setting and examine them, whereas, developmental methods study life in its natural habitat. Developmental biologists study the way something reacts in its natural form of life without changing anything (Repko, 2017, p. 35-66).

Treatment for cancer can harm the body in many ways, one being biologically. According to Zareifar at el (2017), obesity is a major medical problem with children who have survived cancer. The studied showed that those who have survived cancer have a high risk of obesity, metabolic syndrome, high blood sugar level, etc. (Zareifar et al, 2017, p. 97-102). It was conducted of 53 patients who all received testing for metabolic syndrome by getting their serum triglyceride, cholesterol, fasting blood sugar, leptin, BMI, blood pressure and insulin levels measured. The study showed that 13 patients were overweight with increased blood leptin levels, 21 patients had metabolic syndrome, and many of the patients BMI scores had increased. In conclusion, they discovered that being metabolic syndrome and becoming overweight are complications from cancer treatments and can lower ones self-esteem significantly (Zareifar et al, 2017, p. 97-102).

Ness et al (2011) also did a study explaining how treatments in cancer patients can have a negative effect on children. It can damage internal functions, which significantly decreases children’s self-esteem. Chemotherapy can increase risk of early death among those who have survived cancer, and can increase the patient’s risk for heart failure or heart attacks. These negative effects can continue long after they received their treatments (Ness et al., 2011, p.185-197).

According to Bower (2014), fatigue is another common side effect of cancer and can last for months or years in survivors. She stated that, “studies have confirmed that the intensity and duration of fatigue experienced by cancer patients and survivors is significantly greater than healthy controls and causes greater impairment in quality of life.” The inflammatory process that occurs with cancer can have a huge effect on fatigue. Tumors and treatments can activate the pro-inflammatory cytokine network in our body, which can be the leading factor in fatigue. Pro-inflammatory cytokines are inside the body and convey certain messages, but when activated they can signal changes to the neural activity, psychological processes and behavior. As you can know, fatigue can be a significant disturbance to children’s lives (Bower, 2014, p.597-609).

In each study discussed, there are many commonalities found. Looking at this matter both psychologically and biologically it is shown that they have found the root of the problem, how cancer affects children. In the psychological and biological standpoint they both discuss that the problems with cancer and its treatments effect children’s self-perception in a negative way. These disciplines intertwine by taking the biological aspect of cancer and mixing it in psychologically. Obesity, hair loss, fatigue, social and educational problems, are a just few biological problems involved in cancer but can effect one psychologically. Creating a common ground is found when one or more concepts are looked at. It connects two different sides to help show understanding of something in particular (Repko, 2017, p. 269-292).

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