Cancer Etiquette

What to say and what not to say when someone has cancer


First of all, if the person with cancer hasn't told you about it personally, find out if the information is confidential.  If it is, it's best not to say anything until they bring it up.  when they do, here are some do's and don'ts.



  • Take your cues from the person with cancer.  Some people are very private while others will talk openly about their illness.

Let them know you care.

Respect their decisions about how the cancer will be treated, even if you disagree.

  • Include the person in usual plans or social events.  Let them be the one to tell you if it's too much for them right now.
  • Listen without always feeling you have to respond.  Sometimes a caring listener is what the person needs the most.
  • Expect the person with cancer will have good and bad days, emotionally and physically.
  • Offer to help in concrete ways, i.e. "I'm going tot he grocery store, do you need anything?



  • Don't tell them you know how they feel, you don't.
  • Don't offer advice they don't ask for, or be judgmental.
  • Don't tell them about friends or relatives who have cancer and what they are doing, everyone is different.
  • Don't be afraid to talk about the illness, when they want to.
  • Don't take things too personally.  It's normal for the person with cancer to be quieter than usual, need to be alone, or angry at times.
  • Don't feel you always need to talk about cancer, they may want to talk about other things, i.e., sports, hobbies, the news.
  • Don't be overprotective.  Encourage normal activities whenever possible.

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