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When Dad Gets Cancer, Kids Do Poorly In School

Children who watch a parent battle cancer get lower grades in school and earn less money as adults, according to a new study of more than one million children in Denmark.

Children who watch a parent battle cancer get lower grades in school and earn less money as adults, according to a new study of more than one million children in Denmark. Researchers found that, the more severe the cancer, the greater the impact on children. Moreover, early exposure to this kind of health-related stress could have further-reaching impacts on kids.

“Parental cancer in childhood could be considered as a potential early life stressor that may increase the health vulnerability to later life exposures, expanding the risk of later social disadvantage and poor adult health,” according to the study.

The study has profound implications. After all, more than 30 percent of the population will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives, and roughly 1 in 6 cancer survivors have children. To measure how parental cancer impacts kids, researchers took advantage of the expansive public data on Danish citizens. They collated the grade point averages of 1,155,214 Danish children born between January 1978 and December 1999 and calculated their disposable income by age 30. They then ran these numbers against parental cancer diagnoses, found in the Danish National Patient Registry.

Roughly five percent of Danish children had at least one parent diagnosed with cancer. These children had lower GPAs than their counterparts, and their grades declined with the severity of the disease. When the parents had a poor chance of surviving five years or died, the children experienced serious problems in school, had overall lower educational attainment, and reported lower earnings by the age of 30. When the parents were likely to survive, or alive by the children’s 15th birthdays, the impact was statistically significant but less prominent.

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Those most affected were less than five years old when their parents were diagnosed with cancer. “Some children who experience parental cancer would benefit from appropriate support and early educational rehabilitation in their teenage years,” the authors conclude.