Stress, immune function, and cellular aging among parents of children with and without cancer or brain tumors
Methods: Parents of children ages 2-18 with (n=71; cases) and without (n=124) cancer or brain tumors completed in-person interviewer-assisted surveys assessing sociodemographics and symptoms of stress. Parents also provided blood samples, and immune function biomarkers (C-Reactive Protein, Epstein-Barr Virus antibody titers, and Interleukin-6) were assayed. Telomere length was evaluated among a sub-sample of cases (n=50). Multivariable regression analyses were used to determine 1) the relationships between caring for a child with cancer and immune function biomarkers, 2) if and to what extent this association was mediated by symptoms of stress, and 3) the relationship between symptoms of stress and telomere length.
Results: Case status was not associated with continuous measures of individual immune biomarkers; however, parents of children with cancer were more likely to have elevated levels of two or more immune function biomarkers (OR: 2.29, 90% CI: 1.18-4.42). This relationship was significantly mediated by symptoms of stress, specifically cardiopulmonary, neurological/gastrointestinal, and upper respiratory symptoms. Cases' symptoms of stress were not associated with shorter telomere length.
Conclusions: Stress related to caring for a child with cancer may result in cumulative, deleterious pathophysiological changes for parents. These results suggest a possible biological link by which caregivers' long-term health may be adversely affected. Continued monitoring of the biopsychosocial well-being of these families is warranted.
Public health or related research
Social and behavioral sciences
Explain the associations among caring for a child with cancer, stress, and elevated levels of biological markers of immune function. Identify a potential pathway leading from caregiving to adverse health outcomes.
Keyword(s): Caregivers, Stress
Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I have been the principal or co-principal of multiple federally funded grants focusing on the maternal and child health. Among my scientific interests has been the application of the life course approach to understanding the social, behavioral, and psychological factors that contribute to human development and disparities in health and healthcare in women, children, and families.
Any relevant financial relationships? No
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