Talking to your class about cancer

Talking to your class about cancer can seem daunting. But it’s important that young people learn the facts, as cancer affects us all in some way.

Your pupils will probably have heard of cancer, whether or not they have been directly affected by it. It is likely that they will have their own ideas and beliefs about it. Sometimes these can be misguided or misinformed. Talking about cancer with your class can be a good way to address any myths or fears they might have.

Talking about cancer in school is something that needs careful thought and preparation. If there are any pupils in your class who you know have been directly affected by cancer, you shouldn’t be discouraged from talking about it. You may want to ask them if they would like you to involve them in the preparation for your talk, so they know what you're going to say. This might also show other pupils that it is okay to talk openly about cancer.

We have more information about cancer types, cancer treatments, symptoms and side effects, and living with cancer.

Guiding principles

These will differ according to your pupils and their age, but below are some guidelines:

  • Always try to answer any questions honestly. Don’t worry about saying that you don’t know the answer. Explain that you can find the answer together.
  • Ask your pupils what concerns they have, and try to talk through them.
  • Try to support your pupils’ feelings. They may want to talk through their concerns with you. They may also want to talk to the school nurse, another adult or one of Macmillan’s cancer support specialists.
  • Explain that there are many things people can do to reduce their chance of getting cancer, for example living a healthy lifestyle and not smoking.

Key points

These are some of the main messages that it would be good for your pupils to understand:

  • Nothing a person has done has caused their cancer.
  • You can’t catch cancer from anyone else.
  • Some lifestyle choices reduce the chance of getting cancer, for example daily exercise. Others increase it, for example smoking.
  • It’s not possible to say why some people develop cancer and others don’t.
  • People don’t always die if they get cancer. In fact, more and more people are surviving cancer.
  • Cancer mostly affects people over the age of 65. Childhood cancer is very rare, and most children who are diagnosed with cancer survive.

Back to Teaching about cancer

Talking about cancer toolkit

Our cancer toolkit can help you discuss cancer honestly and openly with your pupils aged 9-16 years old as part of your PSHE/PSE/PSD, citizenship or science lessons.