Breast cancer: How do I tell my family and friends?

Telling your loved ones that you have cancer can be hard. Here are some tips to help start the conversation.

The diagnosis of breast cancer is a shock that needs to be absorbed. Telling partners, friends and especially children about the disease is an additional challenge for many women. We have put together some tips that can help you talk with your loved ones about the condition and its consequences.


Partners, friends and family – the relationships we have with other people vary from person to person. Therefore, there is no universal “right way” to tell people you are close to that you have breast cancer. You can decide whom you tell and how you tell them. The following tips are suggestions to help you find ways of communicating that are right for you.


What can help: 

Ideas for letting people know your diagnosis of breast cancer


Things to consider when talking to your partner

For many women, their partner is an important emotional support. On the other hand, providing this support can be stressful for your partner. Therefore, it can help both of you if you involve them in your medical decisions from the beginning, process your diagnosis together and share your thoughts and feelings. During your treatment you might also want to talk to them about issues such as your how your body feels or what you need in relation to intimacy and sexuality. This is not always easy, but it can help to find solutions together and to prepare for changes ahead – such as losing a breast due to a mastectomy.


Things to consider when talking to your parents

Parents often find it especially hard when they learn that their child is ill, no matter what their age. There are no set rules: It can help to tell both parents about the disease together so that they can support each other, or if you are closer to one parent you might want to share your diagnosis with them first. It can also help to have your siblings or other family members with you when you break the news.


Things to consider when talking to friends

First, think about whom you want to share your diagnosis and experiences with. Who do you want to tell personally and who can be told by someone else? It can be helpful to treat the illness as openly and honestly as possible with friends. But it can also be good to treat yourself to areas of protection, areas in your life in which the disease does not matter, for example, with sports or work colleagues.


Ideas on how to keep communicating while you are having treatment for breast cancer



Things to consider when talking to your children

What and how much you tell your children about your breast cancer also depends on how old they are. The preparation for a conversation with a three-year-old boy will, naturally, be different to that for a 16-year-old who is in the middle of puberty. Here are a few approaches:


Ideas for telling your children about your breast cancer diagnosis


Ideas on how to keep communicating with your children while you are having treatment for breast cancer




You can find more information about talking to your children about cancer on the following websites:

The Cancer Research UK page “Support for children whose parents have cancer” provides general information and contains links to websites specifically for teenagers whose parents have been affected by cancer.


The Macmillan Cancer Support page “Explaining cancer to children and teenagers” also has a section on explaining cancer to children with learning difficulties.