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Bullying and Childhood Cancer Patients

Some childhood cancer patients and survivors may be at risk for bullying.

Children and teens with physical, developmental, intellectual, emotional, and sensory differences are more likely to be bullied than their peers.

The American Psychological Association (APA) defines bullying as a form of aggressive behavior in which someone intentionally and repeatedly causes another person injury or discomfort. Bullying can take the form of physical contact, words, or more subtle actions such as social exclusion. The person being bullied typically has trouble defending himself or herself and does nothing to “cause” the bullying.

Cyberbullying is bullying that happens online and via cell phones, according to the APA. It includes sending hurtful or threatening e-mails or instant messages, spreading rumors, or posting embarrassing photos of others.

Who Is at Risk

Any child who is perceived as weak, such as children with obvious signs of cancer treatment effects, are more at risk. These conditions may include:

  • Hair loss
  • Weight gain because of steroids
  • Cognitive/ learning impairments
  • Scars
  • Amputation
  • Vision problems
  • Speech problems
  • Growth problems
  • Radiation side effects
  • Nerve problems

Signs and Symptoms of Bullying

Signs and symptoms that a child is being bullying include:

  • Avoidance – Examples may be not wanting to ride the bus, not wanting to go into school restrooms, eat in the school cafeteria, or play at recess.
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Unexplained injuries
  • Frequent headaches and stomachaches
  • Declining grades
  • Decreased self-esteem

Effects of Bullying

Bullying can affect physical and emotional health, both in the short term and later in life.

It leads to:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Low self-esteem
  • Headaches
  • Problems adjusting to school
  • Academic problems

Strategies for Dealing with Bullying

Students and parents can take steps to prevent or effectively respond to bullying:

  • Report bullying to a teacher or administrator.
  • Get counseling from a guidance counselor or mental health professional.
  • Make sure the problem is being addressed.
  • Address bullying in 504 plans.
  • Get support from peers.
  • Look into organizations such as Best Buddies.

For more information on taking action to prevent bullying, visit the APA Help Center.


Reviewed: June 2018

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