Volume 50 - Article 27 | Pages 763–796  

The influence of parental cancer on the mental health of children and young adults: Evidence from Norwegian register data on healthcare consultations

By Øystein Kravdal, Jonathan Wörn, Rannveig Hart, Bjørn-Atle Reme


Objective: The aim was to examine how parental cancer affects the mental health of offspring aged 6–30, and age variations in this effect.

Methods: Individual fixed-effects models were estimated from register data covering the entire Norwegian population in 2010–2018. The outcome variable was whether the individual (offspring) had at least one consultation within a year with a general practitioner (GP) or specialist where a mental health diagnosis or symptom was reported.

Results: The consultation probability was higher after a parental cancer diagnosis than before (e.g., 15% higher in the first year after the diagnosis). This was to a large extent driven by subsequent parental deaths, but there was also a small post-diagnosis increase among offspring whose parent survived the observation period. The consultation probability increased by 83% the year a parent died among offspring who were 19–30 at that time, after a smaller increase over a few of the preceding years. A decline occurred later. The death seemed to have a weaker, but more lasting, effect on those who were 8–18 years old at the time of the death, and these did not experience a clear pre-death increase.

Conclusions: Parental cancer death seems to weaken offspring’s mental health – and no less among young adults than among children. By contrast, having a parent with cancer who remains alive at least throughout the observation period has relatively little impact.

Contribution: We show associations between parental cancer and offspring’s mental health, paying special attention to whether the parent dies. This may inform discussions about supporting offspring.

Author's Affiliation

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