My friend has cancer

Finding out your friend has cancer can make you feel worried and you probably have lots of questions.

Is my friend going to be OK?

Everyone with cancer reacts differently to treatment, but the kind of cancers that children get means that most children get better.

What causes cancer?

It's very unusual for children to get cancer and we don't know very much about what causes it. The types of cancer that children get are mostly different to those that adults have. Find out what cancer is.

Can I catch cancer?

No. Cancer can't be passed on like a cold. You can spend as much time with your friend as you want, it won't give you cancer.

How is cancer treated?

There are three main types of treatment: chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery. Your friend may be having one of these, or a mixture:

  • Chemotherapy is a medicine that kills cancer cells. It can be a tablet, liquid, injection or taken through a drip.
  • Radiotherapy is a type of X-ray which kills cancer cells in the part of the body where the cancer is.
  • Surgery means having an operation in hospital.

Does treatment hurt?

These treatments don't hurt, but they're not very nice. Chemotherapy and radiotherapy may mean that your friend has sore skin or feels sick or tired. If your friend needs surgery they will have a general anaesthetic.

Freyja and Addie

Why does my friend look different?

Your friend may lose their hair because of their treatment. Once the treatment is finished, hair usually grows back. Your friend might also put on weight or lose it or they might look more tired or pale than usual.

Why don't I see my friend often?

Sometimes your friend may feel weak, sick or tired. They might not go to school or they might go part-time, or on the days or weeks in-between treatment sessions.

Sometimes your friend might not want visitors at home or in hospital. This might be because they are tired or feeling ill.

How can I help my friend?

You can support your friend by keeping in touch during their treatment, and listening when they want to talk. This will help you understand what it's like for them and how you can help them.

Don't feel like you have to talk about their illness all the time though. Your friend is still the same person they were before, and some days they might not want to think about it and get on with the things you both like doing best.

Find out more

If you want to know more about your friend's cancer you could ask a parent or carer to read our storybooks for children with you. These explain what it's like to have different kinds of cancer and what treatment might be like.

You can also download our factsheet for friends of children with cancer. Ask a parent or carer to read it with you.

If you are still worried

If you are worried about your friend speak to your parents, or a trusted adult so they can help you.

Updated March 2016, next planned review 2018.