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Bullying and Childhood Cancer Patients

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

Children and teens are more likely to be bullied when others perceive them as different. These differences may be physical, developmental, intellectual, emotional, or sensory.

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
  • Social exclusion

The target of bullying typically has trouble defending himself or herself and does nothing to “cause” the aggression.

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
  • Posting embarrassing photos of others

Who Is at Risk

Any child who is perceived as weak is more at risk. This situation may include signs of cancer treatment such as:

  • 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 of bullying:

  • Avoidance – Examples include not wanting to ride the bus, 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 can lead 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 respond effectively 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: July 2019