Talking to Kids About Cancer
About this information
Explaining a diagnosis of cancer to children or teenagers can feel difficult and overwhelming. This information is designed as a starting point for having a series of conversations about cancer. Talking sensitively and openly about the diagnosis can provide children with reassurance during a time of uncertainty and change.
The information provided here focuses on when a parent has cancer, but much of the discussion will be relevant for anyone who needs to explain a cancer diagnosis to children or teenagers – for example, when a child’s sibling or friend has cancer, when their grandparent or another significant adult has cancer, or when the child has cancer.
Different sections offer tips on talking with children throughout all stages of cancer, from sharing the news about a cancer diagnosis to adjusting to life after treatment or speaking about end of life.
This information includes quotes and stories from people who have been affected by cancer, along with examples of what a parent or carer might say. These are just ideas; you will need to adapt what you say to suit your children’s ages and their individual personalities. You know your children best and can judge their ability to understand things.
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This information is reviewed by
This information was last reviewed February 2023 by the following expert content reviewers: Prof Jane Turner AM, International Psycho-Oncology Society President Emeritus, The University of Queensland, QLD; Taylor Baker, Consumer; Dr Ben Britton, Principal Clinical and Health Psychologist, Head of Psychology, Hunter New England Mental Health, NSW; Camp Quality; Dr Lisa Cuddeford, Head of Department, WA Paediatric Palliative Care Service, Perth Children’s Hospital, WA; A/Prof Peter Downie, Head, Paediatric Haematology–Oncology and Director, Children’s Cancer Centre, Monash Children’s Hospital, VIC; Dr Sarah Ellis, Clinical Psychologist, Kids Cancer Centre, Sydney Children’s Hospital, NSW; Malia Emberson-Lafoa’i, Consumer; Kate Fernandez, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA; Jane Gillard, Consumer; Mary McGowan OAM, International Childhood Cancer Advocate, VIC; Annette Polizois, Senior Social Worker, Women, Family and Emergency Care Team, Royal North Shore Hospital, NSW; Rhondda Rytmeister, Clinical Psychologist, HeadWayHealth (formerly Snr Clinical Psychologist, The Cancer Centre for Children, Westmead, NSW); Nadine Street, Head of Social Work and Social Welfare, HNE Mental Health Service, NSW; Warren Summers, Online Counsellor, Canteen, NSW.