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Family life 11 Jun 2021

Talking about cancer

Talking to children about cancer: where to start

Women and child

Telling children and teenagers about your or another family member’s cancer is never going to be easy. Yet knowing the truth will help them to understand what is going on and enable them to better deal with the changes.

Children under 10 tend to worry about ‘catching’ cancer themselves, or even causing it, so it will reassure them to know:

  • That cancer isn’t like a cold - they can’t catch it, and it’s OK to hug and kiss.
  • That it’s not their fault. Nothing they did, said or thought caused the cancer.
  • That they can ask questions and say how they’re feeling at any time – this includes bringing home comments they’ve heard from other children.
  • How your illness will affect them and their daily routine.

Make a roadmap

In a time of change, having a roadmap can be very helpful. Psychotherapist Neil Lamont recommends deciding in advance where and what time of day you’ll talk to your child.

“Would it be helpful to have someone with you? Think, too, about what support will be in place for them after, as they think through the news, such as their teachers. Consider talking to their school.”

Keep things simple

Answer your child’s questions as accurately as you can – the more they understand the more stable and understood they will feel. Uncertainty and having things hidden from them will only add to their vulnerability.

"Be honest. If you don’t know the answer to something, be honest and say so. Tell them you’ll find out, then seek the advice of an expert,” Neil Lamont

Focus on the now

There may be questions about the future that you can’t answer right now. Rather than close down your child’s question, talk about the here and now – the treatment and how it’s working.

Extra support

For more advice on helping children cope with cancer in the family, download any of Bupa’s illustrated booklet series, compiled in partnership with world-leading cancer care specialists.

Designed for 7 to 11 year olds, they are written in a way that’s easy for younger family members to understand. You can read them together, give them to your child to digest in their own time, or use them as a guide for talking things through together.

Download "What does it mean" guide (PDF, 2.9MB)

Download "Visiting hospital" guide (PDF, 4.2MB)

Download "Life at home" guide (PDF, 2.4MB)

Download activity book (PDF, 1.2MB)


1. Bupa UK, "I know someone with cancer", (, last accessed in February 2016

2. Bupa UK, "How to talk to children about cancer", (, last accessed in February 2016

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