How to Talk About Cancer

Talking With Children About Cancer

How and when to tell children about a cancer diagnosis depends on the age of the child. Each child is different but, generally speaking, children up to about age 8 require less detailed information than those who are 8 and older. When telling a child about cancer, keep in mind that children may not have questions right away. Be prepared to answer questions and concerns when they come up, reassuring them that they will always be loved and cared for. Assigning children tasks and chores related to cancer care offers them a way to feel useful.

It’s common for young children to believe that something they did or did not do caused their loved one to get cancer. Children may also worry that they or someone else in the family can “catch” cancer. Reassure them that no one caused the cancer and that it is not contagious.

Older children may be able to take in more complex information, and may ask more questions — and they may need time to digest, process, and work through their feelings. There is no right way to tell your teenager you have cancer, just as there is also no right way to respond. Teenagers may feel torn between wanting to comfort you, and be comforted themselves. They may also need time alone, or with friends, to make sense of what’s happening and to retain a sense of normalcy.

The American Cancer Society’s tips and information for teenagers whose parents have cancer may be a helpful resource to share with your teen.