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Having difficult but essential conversations

Explaining a cancer diagnosis to children or teenagers can feel difficult and overwhelming, but talking sensitively and honestly about cancer can reassure them during a time of uncertainty and change. Giving children the chance to ask about cancer and express their feelings will help them understand.

Download Cancer Council’s Talking to kids about cancer booklet:

What and how much you tell children will depend on how old they are and how much they can understand.

Talking to kids about cancer offers ideas of how to talk with your children at each stage, from diagnosis to life after cancer.

Children at different ages will respond differently and seek different types of information. We offer age appropriate suggestions and possible reactions to expect. The booklet also includes stories and quotes from families who have faced similar situations.

Although the book focuses on when a parent has cancer, much of the discussion will be relevant for anyone who needs to explain a diagnosis of cancer to children.

Booklet contents:

Cancer conversations

  • Reasons for including children in discussions about cancer
  • How children might react at different ages
  • Ways you can support them

Talking about the diagnosis

  • Processing a cancer diagnosis yourself
  • Sharing the news with children
  • When a child has cancer
  • Words you can use
  • Typical questions and possible answers
  • Involving others

Talking about treatment

  • Ways to understand and discuss cancer treatment
  • How cancer may affect the person with cancer and the entire family
  • Managing emotions
  • Tips for supporting the family and maintaining routines

After treatment

  • How adults and children may react when cancer treatment is over
  • Continuing open communication with children
  • Responding to children’s expectations
  • Re-establishing family routines

When cancer won’t go away

  • How adults and children may respond if cancer advances
  • Ways to talk about ongoing cancer and the possibility of death
  • Words you can use
  • Making the most of the time left
  • Resources to help bereaved children

Further support and information

  • How to find professional help
  • Contact details for support organisations
  • Useful websites
  • Recommended reading for children and adults
  • Glossary of cancer words for younger and older children
  • References

Further resources

You may also like to view The Women’s Hospital video resource, Enhancing Parenting in Cancer (EPIC). The individual chapters can be viewed chronologically or separately according to your preference.

Our 13 11 20 Cancer Information and Support Line can provide anyone affected by cancer with confidential, accurate information and support on any cancer-related concerns. Our cancer nurses can also inform you of services and programs.

If you prefer, you can email us on or complete the form below and one of our 13 11 20 team members will respond to your enquiry.

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