Psychology ETDs


Sarah Dinces

Publication Date



Objective: We examine how parental stress and pediatric cancer might jointly predict child HPA function using a non-invasive method of cortisol assessment (hair samples). Methods: Parents and children from healthy control and pediatric cancer survivor families participated. Multilevel modeling was applied to data from a nested-design study (85 children, 5-18 years old, from 64 families, healthy controls: n=32; cancer survivors: n=32) to determine the relationship between parent salivary and child hair cortisol measures. Results: No main effect of the cancer experience on child cortisol was found. Parental cortisol positively correlated with child cortisol levels within healthy controls, while there was no association within pediatric cancer survivor families. For cancer survivor children given corticosteroids, there was a negative association between parent and child cortisol levels. Among cancer survivor children not given corticosteroids, the relationship between parent and child was the same as for healthy control families. Conclusion: Only when children are exposed to corticosteroids, the relationship between parent and child HPA function is significantly changed by the cancer experience. This study provides no evidence that the cancer illness alone alters child HPA function. However, direct perturbation of the childs HPA axis by corticosteroid exposure may have lasting effects on children's stress physiology.

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First Advisor

Tang, Akaysha

Second Advisor

Del Giudice, Marco

First Committee Member (Chair)

Annett, Robert

Second Committee Member

Steve, Gangestad

Third Committee Member

Emery Thompson, Melissa




cortisol, parental influence, cancer, child, stress

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