Australian population data regarding the number and sociodemographic characteristics of children affected by a parent’s cancer are not currently available. Moreover, predictions that this population is increasing have not been tested. This study provides Western Australian data on the number and sociodemographic characteristics of parents with cancer and their young children (aged 0–11 years), and investigates whether long-term trends in this population has increased over time.
Linked administrative data was used to describe parents with malignant cancer and their children aged 0–11 years at the time of diagnosis between 1985 and 2015 in Western Australia. Parents and children were described overall and by year of diagnosis and sociodemographic characteristics. Parents were identified using the Western Australian Cancer Registry (WACR). Data were extracted from the WACR for individuals with a first cancer diagnosis (except Basal Cell Carcinoma and Squamous Cell Carcinoma) between 1 January 1982 and 31 December 2015. Data on parent mortalities were linked using the WACR and WA death registrations. Individuals with a first recorded cancer during the 34-year period were linked to offspring aged 0–11 years at the time of parents' diagnosis using genealogy databases: Western Australian Data Linkage System (WADLS) Family Connections; Midwives Notification System (MNS); and Birth Registrations. A poisson regression was used to investigate trends in the number of children affected, accounting for population growth. Incidence counts of parental cancer characteristics were included.
Between 1982–2015, 15,938 parents were diagnosed with a malignant cancer, affecting 25,901 children. In 2015, 0.28% of children experienced a parent’s diagnosis. The number of children affected increased over time; however, this was accounted for by population growth. At the time of diagnosis, the majority of parents (46.3%) resided in high socioeconomic status areas and were regionally located (58.5%). Older children and older parents most frequently experienced parental cancer. Among the most common parental cancer diagnoses were skin cancer (26.2%), breast cancer (18.3%), cancer of the digestive organs (11.2%), and cancer of the genital organs (7.5%). Skin cancer was most common in fathers (29.9%), and breast cancer was most common in mothers (34.7%).
A substantial number of families are affected by parental cancer. This data can guide intervention development and delivery to children of different developmental stages, and inform decisions regarding resource allocation and health service accessibility.