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Support for Teachers

On this page: Some downloadable resources from UK cancer information site Macmillan & Guidelines for talking about cancer to students.

Cancer affects us all in some way, perhaps a diagnosis within our immediate family, a relative or friend and of course there is so much information to read, watch and to listen to about this disease.

Children and young people will probably know the word "cancer". It is likely they will have formed their own ideas about what "cancer" means.

Talking about cancer to your class can help clarify their thoughts, alleviate fears and misconceptions and this is especially important when a student in your class has been personally affected by cancer, either through their own diagnosis or that of a sibling or parent.

We can offer some general tips which may help in preparing a cancer talk for your pupils. If you have a student with cancer in your class, perhaps invite him or her to help with your preparation. This will offer the student reassurance through familiarity with the content of the talk and may also encourage other pupils to speak more openly about cancer.

The UK Macmillan cancer website provides some excellent resources:

Downloadable Resource Sheets for talking to your class about cancer: www.macmillan.org.uk/GetInvolved/Schools/Teachingaboutcancer

Information on how to manage cancer in a school setting: www.macmillan.org.uk/GetInvolved/Schools

Information and advice to help teachers support students with cancer or those who have a family member or relative with cancer: www.macmillan.org.uk/GetInvolved/Schools/Informationandadvice

Also, visit our Parents' section to read information about cancer specifics, for example child cancer types, treatments, tests, side effects and more.

Guidelines for talking about cancer with students

Some general guidelines for all ages:

  • Explain cancer in a calm, unhurried and confident way. 
  • Consider any cultural issues that may arise from a frank and open discussion about cancer and how it can affect health and wellbeing. 
  • Encourage students to ask questions at any stage of the discussion. 
  • Provide honest and straightforward answers to questions. 
  • If you don't know the answer to something, let students know that you will find out and perhaps involve them in that process. 
  • Encourage students to voice their concerns and issues and try to talk them through. 
  • If emotions arise, try to reassure and support students' feelings. If need be, involve a school nurse, Dean or another teacher. 

Main messages about cancer

  • Cancer cannot be caught from anyone else. 
  • Cancer is no one's fault: nothing anyone says or does can make it happen to someone else. 
  • The likelihood of some cancers occurring can be linked to lifestyle, for example, smoking. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle with good nutrition and regular exercise can reduce chances of developing cancer but it's not possible to say why some develop cancer and others do not. 
  • More people are surviving cancer now because diagnoses are made earlier and treatments are improving. Cancer mostly affects adults. Childhood cancer is very rare and most children who are diagnosed with cancer survive

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