Our 24/7 cancer helpline provides information and answers for people dealing with cancer. We can connect you with trained cancer information specialists who will answer questions about a cancer diagnosis and provide guidance and a compassionate ear.
Our highly trained specialists are available 24/7 via phone and on weekdays can assist through video calls and online chat. We connect patients, caregivers, and family members with essential services and resources at every step of their cancer journey. Ask us how you can get involved and support the fight against cancer. Some of the topics we can assist with include:
For medical questions, we encourage you to review our information with your doctor.
Children of different ages will understand a cancer diagnosis differently. Here are a few things to help you explain what is happening and comfort them.
These children have a hard time understanding what they can’t see or touch. They also have a hard time understanding what causes the illness and what to expect right away and in the future. Here are some things you can do that might be helpful in comforting them and keeping their lives as normal as possible.
Children of this age are most afraid of separation and feeling abandoned, especially if it’s a parent who has cancer . If there is a change to their routine, babies and toddlers might get easily confused, become more clingy, and might have changes to their usual sleeping, eating, or other daily habits.
Children in this age group might struggle to understand the complexity of a cancer diagnosis. They might think of being sick as having a cough or cold and might be confused and think that they can also "catch" cancer .
If it’s the parent who has been diagnosed with cancer, a child this age will likely show more fear and anxiety when away from them .
In times of distress, children at this age might regress (go back to behaviors they have already outgrown, like being toilet-trained). They might also have changes in sleeping patterns and have temper tantrums.
At this age, children are more likely to have a better understanding of cancer. They might also understand the concept of time better and be able to anticipate the future.
Children of this age might have a hard time telling an adult about any distress they are experiencing and might be afraid that what they say might upset loved ones.
At this age, they can understand the complexities of a cancer diagnosis and treatment more. they also have a better understanding of how the cancer diagnosis can affect a loved one’s future, and because of that, they can worry more. Teenagers are highly influenced by their friends and are developing their own identity so this can impact how they look at a cancer diagnosis, especially if it’s a parent who has been diagnosed.
Teenagers experiencing distress might act out, withdraw from friends and family, and feel overwhelmed. Reassure them that it is OK to have these feelings and encourage them to learn how to respond and cope in healthy ways. Teenagers may try to protect parents by hiding their sadness, anger, or fears, so it’s important to check in with them regularly. They might also ask fewer questions and turn to the internet, social media, or friends as sources of information. They might also try to find ways to help their loved one.
Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.
Cancer.Net. How A Child Understands Cancer. 2019. Accessed at https://www.cancer.net/coping-with-cancer/talking-with-family-and-friends/how-child-understands-cancer on May 10, 2022.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 2020. Helping Children Cope with Emergencies. Accessed at https://www.cdc.gov/childrenindisasters/helping-children-cope.html on May 10, 2022.
Forrest, G., Plumb, C., Ziebland, S. & Stein, A. (2009). Breast cancer in young families: a qualitative interview study of fathers and their role and communication with their children following the diagnosis of maternal breast cancer. Psychooncology, 18, 96-103.
Lalayiannis, L., Asbury, N., Dyson, G., Walshe, A. (2016) How do women with secondary breast cancer experience telling their adolescent children about their diagnosis? Journal of Health Psychology, 1-11, doi:10.1177/1359105316648484.
Oma C, Edbom T, Mansson J, Ekblad S. Informing children of their parent’s illness: A systematic review of intervention programs with child outcomes in all health care settings globally from inception to 2019. PLoS ONE. 2020; 15(5): 2.
The British Psychological Society. Talking to children about illness. 2020. Accessed at https://www.bps.org.uk/sites/www.bps.org.uk/files/Policy/Policy/pdf on May 10, 2022.
Last Revised: September 15, 2022