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Childhood Cancer

Cancer occurs at the cellular level, the “building blocks” of the body [In !MedlinePlus. Retrieved from )]. It is a mistake in the copying of cells. Cells will grow where they are not needed and not die when they are supposed to. Groupings of these cells are called tumors. Tumors come in two types, benign and malignant. Benign tumors are not considered cancer [1]. Malignant tumors can spread to other parts of the body and invade other tissues. Common treatments for cancer are chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

Children can get cancer like adults can, but with some differences. Cancer in children can occur without warming or symptoms, but have a high rate of cure [2]. Common cancers are leukemia, brain tumors, lymphoma, and soft tissue sarcoma //www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/cancerinchildren.html)]. Children with cancer face possible isolation, loss of control of their lives in hospitals, and biopsychosocial conditions related to their illness Examining the effects of therapy dogs with childhood cancer patients and their families. 1-34.)].

Therapy animals are being investigated regarding their efficacy in improving the quality of life (QOL) for children with cancer [BL., Lazenby, M. . Distress among hospitalized pediatric cancer patients modified by pet-therapy intervention to improve quality of life. Journal of Pediatric Oncology Nursing. 29. 272-82.)]. Even for adults, undergoing chemotherapy, hospital visits, and treatment can be daunting and stressful. Animals provide a source of comfort and stability for children (similar to other areas of research, Depression and Cardiovascular Health). Studies have found that the presence of animals can help the child be more social, more comfortable, feel less isolated, and comply with their treatment guidelines Examining the effects of therapy dogs with childhood cancer patients and their families. 1-34.)].

State of Current Research

Pet ownership, animal assisted activities, and animal assisted therapy fit the National Institute of Health’s criteria as a complementary and alternative medicinal (CAM) treatment. Reasons for using CAMs in the face of cancer often have been found to be psychological in nature and related to the side effects of the disease and conventional treatment, including fear, anxiety, hopelessness, body image changes, and stress [R., Meadows, R., Haubner, J., Sevedge, K. . American Behavioral Scientist. 47.)]. CAMs are also a way by which patients can regain some control of their environment, an environment in which they are subject to hospital schedules, tests, and their disease. A 2003 study investigates the extent to which a trained therapy dog and handler can help a patient maintain a positive outlook and use their social networks. While this study does not directly relate to childhood cancer, it addresses the same issues that children in hospital settings face. A population of 30 people with cancer was exposed to visits from a dog and handler, a friendly human visit, or a quiet reading session to see which had the greatest effect on anxiety [R., Meadows, R., Haubner, J., Sevedge, K. . American Behavioral Scientist. 47.)]. Dog visits were rated the highest for making a person feel comfortable and safe. Patients reported that the presence of a dog was comforting and made them feel more at ease [R., Meadows, R., Haubner, J., Sevedge, K. . American Behavioral Scientist. 47.)].

A 2004 study by Johanne Gagnon, France Bouchard, Marie Landry, Marthe Belles-Isles, Martine Fortier, and Lise Fillion describes the implementation of a hospital based animal therapy program for children with cancer. The authors note that the physical damage done by cancer can lead to adverse biopsychosocial issues such as anxiety, depression, loss of appetite, and withdrawal A descriptive study. Canadian Oncology Nursing Journal. 14. 217-222.)]. The study also investigates the extent to which therapy dogs may decrease the distress felt by children with in hospitals. Data was collected from two groups, children on the one hand, parents and nurses on the other. Questionnaires were issued to gather data on the effectiveness of the canine interventions.

The study concluded that after the intervention benefits for children included being more independent, eats more, and is more comfortable in the hospital A descriptive study. Canadian Oncology Nursing Journal. 14. 217-222.)]. The parents report that hospitalization is “a happier event, that it is a day of happiness and that it helps with morale” A descriptive study. Canadian Oncology Nursing Journal. 14. 217-222.)]. Nurses report feeling more cheerful, motivated, and positive in their facilities A descriptive study. Canadian Oncology Nursing Journal. 14. 217-222.)]. The authors believe that implementing therapy dog programs in hospitals is beneficial to the children, parents, and staff, though more research needs to be done to determine the extent to which AAT is effective as well as how far into chemotherapy or other treatments can therapy dogs have an impact A descriptive study. Canadian Oncology Nursing Journal. 14. 217-222.)].

The authors of “Canines and Childhood Cancer” note that “children diagnosed with cancer and their families not only cope with physical issues, but are also prone to psychosocial issues including isolation, depression, trauma, stress, and fear” Examining the effects of therapy dogs with childhood cancer patients and their families. 1-34. )]. The article is a literature review aimed at examining and describing the benefits of therapy dog interaction with hospitalized children and their families. Children with cancer report a lower QOL, often feeling isolated, depressed, anxious, and a loss of control over their lives. CAM approaches try to treat these symptoms. The literature review found several benefits of therapy dog interaction reported by patients and parents:

1. The dog provided distraction from pain/situation

2. The dog brought pleasure/happiness

3. The dog is fun/entertaining

4. The dog reminds the child of home

5. The child enjoys snuggling/contact with the dog

6. The dog provides company

7. The dog is calming

8. The dog eases pain (Jenkins 2012)

The literature review also outlines research conducted concerning AAT and depression. The findings are similar and cross disciplinary. AAT can help make children in therapy sessions more compliant and willing to open up to the therapist. Similarly, the review found that children in hospital settings were more compliant with their treatment regimens when animals were present Examining the effects of therapy dogs with childhood cancer patients and their families. 1-34.)].

== Areas for Future Investigation ==

Gagnon et al. note that while the efficacy and potential benefits of dog-assisted therapy are demonstrated in their study, the mechanisms by which those benefits are realized are still unknown. They call for further studies to better understand the action process and for more empirical evidence to support the implementation and use of animal assisted therapy in hospital settings (Gagnon 2004).

Jenkins et al. note that from here, one challenge is to define and calrify precisely what an effective AAT intervention is. How do we measure this, and what are the metrics? Examining the effects of therapy dogs with childhood cancer patients and their families. 1-34.)].

The 2012 literature review concludes with the hypothesis that “it is also possible that AAT/AAA interventions may create conditions that trigger endocrinological or neurological functions which in trn may affect the course of human disease or human behavior” Examining the effects of therapy dogs with childhood cancer patients and their families. 1-34.)]. The authors suggest further research to explore possible benefits.

Key Resources

Gagnon, J., Bouchard, F., Landry, M., Belles-Isles, M., Fortier, M., Fillion, L. (2004). Implementing a hospital-based animal therapy program fro children with cancer: A descriptive study. Canadian Oncology Nursing Journal. 14(4). 217-222.

This study details the implementation of an animal therapy program in a hospital setting for young children. Selection criteria specified children over the age of two with a diagnosis of cancer and the ability to speak, write, and converse in French to give consent. The study investigated the ability of animal therapy to ease the distress of children undergoing treatment in a hospital setting. Data was obtained using surveys and questionnaires of both nursing staff and parents. The study found the “simple fact of being in the company of a dog encourage the child” to leave their rooms, participate in activities, and socialize with others.

Jenkins, M., Ruchrdanz, A., McCullogh, A., Casillas, K., Fluke, J. D., USA, American Humane Association. (2012). Canines and childhood cancer: Examining the effects of therapy dogs with childhood cancer patients and their families. 1-34.

This literature review shows evidence for implementing AAT for children with cancer in hospital settings. The report describes studies generally and reports the impact AAT with canines had on children, parents, and hospital staff. The review also covers other territory, such as the effect of AAT/AAA on depression, and how to implement animal therapy into a hospital setting.

Johnson, R., Meadows, R., Haubner, J., Sevedge, K. (2003). American Behavioral Scientist. 47(55).

This article classifies AAT as complimentary and alternative medicine (CAM) in the realm of cancer treatment. CAM aims to treat either the disease itself or to mitigate side effects. CAM treatments are also a way by which patients can regain some control of their environment, an environment in which they are subject to hospital schedules, tests, and their disease. People can become depressed, anxious, or less compliant with treatment. Treating these psychosocial conditions can help to improve overall health, aiding recovery, improving mood, and morale.

  1. ^ “Cancer”. In !MedlinePlus. Retrieved from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/cancer.html

  2. ^ “Cancer in Children”. In !MedlinePlus. Retrieved from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/cancerinchildren.html

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