My friend has cancer

Finding out your friend has cancer can be worrying and you may have many questions. Here are some answers to questions people often ask and some ideas of what you can do to support your friend.

Is my friend going to be OK?

Everyone with cancer reacts differently to treatment, but the kind of cancers that affect young people are usually treated successfully, and most get better.

Can I catch cancer?

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

Why does my friend look different?

Your friend may look different because of their treatment. Your friend might lose their hair after chemotherapy or radiotherapy but once treatment is finished it usually grows back. They might also put on or lose weight but their nurses and doctors will help them to manage this.

Andrew and friends

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 combination:

  • Chemotherapy:  a very strong medicine that kills cancer cells, taken as a tablet, liquid, injection or through a drip.
  • Radiotherapy: a type of X-ray which kills cancer cells while doing as little harm as possible to other cells.
  • Surgery: if your friend has a lump or tumour they may need a biopsy first (when a small piece of tumour  is removed to find out more about it and decide on treatment).

Treatment can sometimes last for as long as two or three years and your friend may be in and out of hospital.

Cancer side effects

Does treatment hurt?

These treatments don't hurt, but they're not nice. Chemotherapy and radiotherapy may cause sore skin, sickness, tiredness or hair loss.

Your friend may have a central line, a small tube inserted into their chest with the end just outside the skin. This allows medicine to be put into their bloodstream and can be used for taking blood tests.

If your friend's cancer or treatment is making it difficult for them to eat or drink, they may have an NG (nasogastric tube) so that they can have liquid food and medicines.

Why don't I see my friend very often?

Your friend may sometimes feel weak, sick or tired from the effects of their treatment. They might not go to school, college or work or they might go part-time, or on the days or weeks in-between treatment sessions. Young people with cancer tell us that doing these things is important as it helps keep things feeling normal.

Your friend might not always want visitors at home or in hospital. This might be because they're tired or feeling ill. You can show them you’re thinking of them by sending them a card, text or email.

Find out more

Find out more about different types of cancer, their treatments and side effects in our about cancer pages.

You can also download our factsheet for friends of young people with cancer which has answers to some common questions about cancer and its treatment.

Updated April 2018, next review due 2020.