What not to do when talking to someone with cancer

3 Basic Tips For What NOT To Do When Talking To Someone With Cancer

There is no doubt that it is sometimes hard to know what to say when you find out that someone has cancer. Here are three basic tips for how to handle it when you are not sure.

1. Give advice

It is always hard to give good advice when you are not in the person’s shoes. When listening to someone’s problems, the natural reaction can be to attempt to offer a solution. Despite this inclination, in most circumstances, the best and safer option is to ask questions, or simply listen when they need to talk.

2. Discuss alternatives

Usually, by the time you hear that someone has cancer, they have already been overwhelmed with different treatment or outcome scenarios. New or alternative treatments, or cancer curing diets, are usually not what a person with cancer wants to hear at this stage.  You may mean well, but it is not required to offer suggestions for other options, unless the person has specifically asked you for some, or revealed that they are actively looking for alternatives.

3. Talk about other people’s cancer

It is so easy to be reminded of other peoples cancer when faced with someone who has a cancer diagnosis. People often try to relate the experiences of others to those they already understand, in order to show understanding, or for another well-intentioned reason. However, it is actually not a good idea to talk about these in most cases, as they are unlikely to be exactly relevant, and could even be depressing for the person you are talking to. Unless you have an uplifting story that directly relates to them, it is generally best to say nothing.

Further reading

How Not To Talk To Someone With Cancer: A Refinery 29 Article

How To Talk To A Person With Cancer: What To Say And Not To Say

Cancer Gifts To Show You Care


  1. A Macmillan volunteer started talking to me while I was having my chemo and attached to the drip so I was a bit of a captive audience, she was telling me about an art and crafts group near me for people with cancer and thought I would be interested in going to be amongst people going through the same thing, she was mentioning people’s names who I might know because they were from my area but then she went on to say they had died. Just what I needed for reassurance..not.

    1. Margaret Rumney thats terrible!!

    2. Cancer Care Parcel next time I went for chemo and again on the drip so was a captive audience a priest came for a chat and said a prayer for me. I was beginning to think my outcome wasn’t looking to good to others. I know some might find a prayer comforting but I’m not religious and just found it a bit spine chilling. I just wish he’d asked first so that I could have politely said no thank you instead of enduring the prayer out of politeness. My preference was the chemo nurses who were so upbeat, chatty and we talked about all sorts of non cancer topics and made my time at the chemo unit so much easier than I expected.

    3. Margaret Rumney thats just terrible. Hard to believe this would happen! Thanks for sharing

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