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Children of mothers with breast cancer were distressed by hair loss; those >10 years of age wanted more information about their mother’s condition

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Q How do children of mothers with newly diagnosed breast cancer perceive their mother’s illness and its initial treatment?


Qualitative study.


Oxfordshire, UK.


37 mothers with newly diagnosed stage I-IIIa breast cancer (mean age 46 y) and 31 of their children who were 6–18 years of age. Cancer treatment was surgery, plus chemotherapy and radiotherapy as needed.


Mothers participated in semistructured interviews, which addressed their experiences of talking with their families about their illness and their perspectives of their children’s response to the diagnosis and treatment. Children were interviewed at home by a child psychiatrist. During the 1 hour interviews, children were asked about their awareness of cancer before the diagnosis; experience of the illness, diagnosis, and treatment; and sources of information and support. Interviews were audiotaped and transcribed verbatim. Anticipated and emergent themes were explored using constant comparison.


Children’s awareness of cancer before their mother’s illness. All but 2 of the youngest children had heard of cancer as …

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  • For correspondence: Dr G Forrest, University of Oxford, Park Hospital for Children, Oxford, UK. gillian.forrest{at}

  • Source of funding: Ashley Trust.