Educational trajectories after childhood cancer: When illness experience matters

Dumas A, Cailbault I, Perrey C, Oberlin O, Vathaire F. De et Amiel P., Educational trajectories after childhood cancer: When illness experience matters, Social Science & Medicine, Volume 135, June 2015, Pages 67-74


With the increase in survival from childhood cancer, research has increasingly focused on the educational and professional achievements of childhood cancer survivors. Yet, if large-scale studies provide an acute description of the current situation of childhood cancer survivors, little is known about their trajectories and the social processes shaping these trajectories.
Using a qualitative methodology, drawing from a life course perspective, this study sought to describe the role of childhood cancer and its side effects in educational trajectories, as perceived by the participants. We investigated related processes of social adjustment to cancer, that is to say, choices or decisions that survivors related to the illness in the making of their career plans. Eighty long-term French childhood cancer survivors participating in the Euro2K longitudinal study were interviewed through in-depth, face-to-face interviews undertaken in 2011–2012.
There were various types of impact described by respondents of the diagnosis of cancer on their trajectories. These varied according to gender. In women, childhood cancer tended to result in poor educational achievement, or in steering the individual towards a health care or child care occupation. This was justified by a desire to return the support that had been offered to them as patients. In men, however, childhood cancer led to a shift in career plans, because of physical sequelae, or because of concerns about their future health. Paradoxically, this limitation had a positive impact in their occupational achievement, as most of these men disregarded blue-collar jobs and chose more qualified white-collar occupations. Overall, findings suggest that childhood cancer influenced educational trajectories and, thus, socioeconomic status in adulthood, through mechanisms embedded in gender norms. These mechanisms could explain gender inequalities in educational achievement after childhood cancer reported in large-scale cohort studies.