Children's cancer camps are vital for healing and dealing with grief, concludes a new study done at the University of Calgary.

After interviewing childhood cancer families who attended cancer camps, as well as camp counselors, Faculty of Nursing PhD student Catherine Laing concluded that the experience should be considered a necessity, not a luxury.

"It's a way through storytelling that kids come to process their disease differently and maybe understand the ramifications of the severity of it, and cope with it a little bit better," she said.

Cancer camps started in the 1970s as a way for families to escape the rigidity and severity of cancer treatment.

"They are designed to meet the needs of the whole family at each stage in the cancer experience — from diagnosis through treatment, to survival or bereavement," the university said in a release.

In 2008, eight camps across Canada provided specialized oncology retreats and community support for over 5,000 children and their families — a 10 per cent increase from the previous three years.

Laing also found that the camps create a strong network of support among sick children and their families.

As more children survive cancer, the need for specialized camps will continue to grow, Laing said.

"Catherine's work demonstrates that cancer camps are much more than just a luxury; they make a deep and complex difference in the lives of children and families experiencing childhood cancer," said Nancy Moules, Laing’s academic supervisor.

Laing’s study was funded by the Alberta Children's Hospital Foundation.