How education on managing parental cancer can improve family communication
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How education on managing parental cancer can improve family communication

Cherith Semple Macmillan head and neck clinical nurse specialist, South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust, and Honorary fellow at Ulster University, Northern Ireland
Eilis McCaughan Professor of cancer care, Ulster University, Belfast, Northern Ireland
Rachel Smith Family service coordinator, Cancer Focus Northern Ireland, Belfast

When parents of young children are diagnosed with cancer there is an immediate effect on families, therefore good communication between oncology professionals and parents at this critical juncture is vital. However, family-centred communication can be inadequate, often because professionals lack knowledge and confidence. The aim of this study was to evaluate the effects of a face-to-face education session on oncology professionals' perceived confidence and competence to communicate with parents diagnosed with cancer.


A face-to-face education intervention was developed and delivered to front-line oncology staff, about the effects of parental cancer on families, and how staff can empower parents to communicate with, and support, their children. The study used a pre-test post-test design, and a Likert-style survey was developed to evaluate the education sessions. Data were analysed using descriptive and inferential statistics.


A total of 35 education sessions with 259 participants were conducted across five NHS trusts in Northern Ireland. Participants' perceived level of confidence to engage in conversations with patients about their cancer and sharing the diagnosis with children, improved significantly. Their perceived competence in handling difficult questions also increased.


Education on managing parental cancer is likely to increase healthcare professionals' knowledge and confidence. This will support family-centred communication, promote family cohesion, and reduce distress. Training like this should be embedded in a clinical context, and informed by evidence.

Cancer Nursing Practice. 16, 5, 34-40. doi: 10.7748/cnp.2017.e1406


Peer review

This article has been subject to external double-blind peer review and checked for plagiarism using automated software

Conflict of interest

None declared

Received: 15 February 2017

Accepted: 21 April 2017