Talking to families about children's cancer

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Health professionals who treat children with cancer become deeply involved with the child and their family. This requires great skill and sensitivity. 

Understand the family’s needs

Health professionals can be enormously helpful to a child and family throughout their cancer journey. It is useful to gain an understanding of the family’s situation, including such matters as:

  • whether they have support and what their support networks are like
  • work and practical matters
  • whether they need to travel a long way for appointments
  • whether they need culturally specific information and/or cultural support.

Provide clear information

Parents are usually the main support for the child with cancer. Parents are keen to have clear information about: 

  • what cancer their child has
  • its prognosis
  • tests 
  • treatment. 

Siblings and other family members also need clear information. Cancer words for kids can help you explain things using words that children can understand.

It is important to talk things through with the family, give them an opportunity to voice their concerns, and answer their questions simply and honestly. These conversations may become more difficult if a child’s treatment is not progressing as hoped, and the chance of cure reduces. Continuing to talk with families at this time is still really valuable. Walking Alongside: for health professionals is a Redkite video resource that shares the insights of health professionals who regularly care for children whose cancer cannot be cured.

Help to find more information

Give families extra information if they need it. 

Not all families will want to look up more information on the internet. They may not be able to, or they might not know which sites are credible. Help them find the information they need by giving them links or printing out pages for them.

The Children’s Cancer website has information for:

Other links and resources for families include:

Look after yourself

Taking care of patients can be emotionally challenging for health professionals. The American Society of Clinical Oncology publishes essays by doctors about difficult conversations they have with their patients. The art of oncology is a collection of these essays.