How to Explain What Cancer is to Your Child When They Have It
How you explain what cancer is and the type of information you give your child will depend on their age, how much they can understand and what they want to know. But the best advice is to keep it simple and straightforward.
Start with questions
Start by asking what they know or have heard about cancer. Children, especially younger children, may have misperceptions about what causes cancer or think that everyone who gets cancer will die or that something they did caused it.
If they do know someone who’s had cancer, usually it’s an adult. For younger children, it can be confusing and frightening to learn that children can get cancer too.
Be clear and keep it simple
When telling your child about their cancer, or about their brother’s or sister’s cancer, be clear about:
- the name of the cancer
- the part of the body affected, and
- how it will be treated.
Some key points to explain about cancer are that:
- It is a disease of the cells.
- There are hundreds of different types of cancer.
- There are different treatments for each type.
- Each cancer and its treatment is different because every person is different.
- Adjusting to life with cancer can be tough – both for the person who has cancer, and their families and friends.
The glossary in Cancer Council’s “How to talk to kids about cancer” booklet is useful if you need to explain cancer terms to your child.
Direct them to age-appropriate information
Try not to overwhelm your child with too much information at once. You can always give them more detail later if they are interested, or direct them to information written for children or young people who have a parent with cancer, like CanTeen’s website and e-books.
Cancer Council’s booklet Talking to Kids About Cancer includes advice on talking to children/young people of different ages about cancer.
> There is information about cancer types written for teenagers and young adults on CanTeen’s website:
> Camp Quality’s Kids’ Guide to Cancer app is for children aged 8-13 who have a parent, sibling, friend, or loved one with cancer and answers common questions about cancer and includes stories from other children affected by cancer.