Skip to main content
Log in

Parental experiences of childhood cancer treatment in Kenya

  • Original Article
  • Published:
Supportive Care in Cancer Aims and scope Submit manuscript



Our study explores socioeconomic, treatment-related, and psychological experiences of parents during cancer treatment of their children at an academic hospital in Kenya.


This cross-sectional study used semi-structured questionnaires. Parents whose children came for cancer treatment consecutively between November 2012 and April 2013 were interviewed.


Between 2012 and 2013, 115 oncology patients attended the hospital and 75 families (response rate 65 %) were interviewed. Cancer treatment resulted in financial difficulties (89 %). More information about cancer and treatment was required (88 %). More contact with doctors was needed (83 %). At diagnosis, cancer was perceived as curable (63 %). However, parents were told by health-care providers that most children with cancer die (49 %). Parents had difficulties with understanding doctors’ vocabulary (48 %). Common reasons to miss hospital appointments were travel costs (52 %) and hospital costs (28 %). Parents (95 %) used complementary alternative treatment (CAM) for their children. Health-care providers told parents not to use CAM (49 %). Parents had not discussed their CAM use with doctors (71 %). Community members isolated families because their child had cancer (25 %), believed that child was bewitched (57 %), advised to use CAM (61 %), and stopped conventional treatment (45 %). Some families (15 %) never disclosed the child’s illness to community members. Parents shared experiences with other parents at the ward (97 %) and would otherwise not understand the disease and its treatment (87 %).


Parents suffer financial hardships and are dissatisfied with doctors’ communication regarding their children’s condition. CAM is very commonly used. Doctors need to improve their communication skills and discuss CAM more openly. Cancer programs should include more support for parents: financial assistance, a facility where parents and children can stay during the course of therapy, and parent support groups.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Fig. 1

Similar content being viewed by others



Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital


Complementary alternative treatment


  1. Sullivan R, Kowalczyk JR, Agarwal B et al (2013) New policies to address the global burden of childhood cancer. Lancet Oncol 3:125–135

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Mehta PS, Wiernikowski JT, Perrilli JA et al (2013) Essential medicines for paediatric oncology in developing world. Pediatr Blood Cancer 60:889–891

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  3. Magrath I, Steliarora-Foucher E, Epelman S et al (2013) Paediatric cancer in low- and middle-income countries. Lancet Oncol 14:104–116

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Masera G (2009) Bridging the childhood cancer mortality gap between economically developed and low income countries. J Paediatr Hematol Oncol 31:710–712

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Rodriguez-Galido C, Friedrich P, Morrisey L et al (2013) Global challenges in paediatric oncology. Curr Opin Paediatr 25:3–15

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Hadley LG, Rouma BS, Saad EY (2012) Challenges of pediatric oncology in Africa. Semin Paediar Surg 21:136–141

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Harif M, Traore F, Hesseissen L, Moreira C et al (2013) Challenges for paediatric oncology in Africa. Lancet Oncol 14:279–281

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  8. Aburn G, Gott M (2001) Education given to parents of children newly diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia. J Pediatr Oncol Nurs 28:300–305

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Khoury MN, Huijer HA, Doumil MA (2013) Lebanese parents experiences with a child with cancer. Eur J Oncol Nurs 17:16–21

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  10. Dockerty JD, Skegg DC, William SM et al (2003) Economic effects of childhood cancer on families. J Pediatr Child Health 39:254–258

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  11. Mostert S, Sitaresmi MN, Gundy CM et al (2008) Parental experiences of childhood leukaemia treatment in Indonesia. J Pediatr Hematol Oncol 30:738–743

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  12. Stam H, Grootenhuis MA, Brons PP (2006) Health related quality of life in children and emotional reactions of parents following completion of cancer treatment. Pediatr Blood Cancer 47:312–319

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  13. Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (2014) 2009 population and housing census results. Accessed 11 Oct 2013

  14. Mostert S, Njuguna F, Kemps L (2012) Epidemiology of diagnosed childhood cancer in Western Kenya. Arch Dis Child 97:508–512

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  15. Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (2010) Kenya demographic and health survey 2008–9. Accessed 11 Oct 2013

  16. Kolossa K (2014) The Kenyan transport system. Accessed 11 Oct 2013

  17. Ministry of Transport and Communications (2009) Integrated national transport policy; moving a working nation. Government of Kenya 2004. Accessed 11 Oct 2013

  18. Advameg, Inc. (2014) Culture of Kenya. Accessed 11 Oct 2013

  19. The Africa Guide (2013) People and culture of Kenya. Accessed 11 Oct 2013

  20. Mostert S, Njuguna F, van de Ven PM et al (2013) Influence of health-insurance access and hospital retention policies on childhood cancer treatment in Kenya. Paediatr Blood Cancer 61:913–918

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Al Quidimat MR, Rozmus CL, Farhan N (2011) Family strategies for managing childhood cancer: using complementary and alternative medicine in Jordan. J Adv Nurs 67:591–597

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Gozun S, Arikan D, Buyukavci M (2007) Complementary and alternative medicine use in pediatric oncology in eastern Turkey. Cancer Nurs 30:38–44

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Laengler A, Spix C, Seiffert G et al (2008) Complementary and alternative treatment methods in children with cancer: a population based retrospective survey on the prevalence of use in Germany. Eur J Cancer 44:2233–2240

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  24. Singendonk M, Kaspers GJ, Naafs-Wilstra M et al (2013) High prevalence of complementary and alternative medicine use in the Dutch pediatric oncology population: a multicenter survey. Eur J Pediatr 172:31–37

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  25. Bussman RW (2006) Ethnobotany of the Samburu of Mt. Nyiru, South Turkana, Kenya. J Ethnobiol Ethnomed 6:35

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Gona JK, Hartley S, Newton CR (2006) Using participatory rural appraisal (PRA) in the identification of children with disabilities in rural Kilifi Kenya. Rural Remote Health 6:553

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  27. Mostert S, Njuguna F, Langat S et al (2014) Two overlooked contributors to abandonment of childhood cancer treatment in Kenya: parents’ social network and experiences with hospital retention policies. Psychooncology 23:700–707

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

Download references


We wish to acknowledge the Doctor 2 Doctor program for their logistical support. The funding for this study was through a grant from the International Society of Pediatric Oncology (SIOP).

Conflict of interest

The authors have no relationship with the organization that funded the study. All the authors have no conflicts to declare.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to F. Njuguna.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Njuguna, F., Mostert, S., Seijffert, A. et al. Parental experiences of childhood cancer treatment in Kenya. Support Care Cancer 23, 1251–1259 (2015).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: