Endorsed by the European Oncology Nursing Society

Coping with feelings of guilt

Coping with feelings of guilt image

If you have cancer, or if someone you love has cancer, you may be feeling guilty, for one of the following reasons:1

  • You may feel guilty because you did not spot the symptoms of cancer or go to the doctor sooner
  • You may feel in some way that you brought the disease on yourself through lifestyle choices that you made
  • You may feel that you are a burden on the hospital staff, society, or your friends and family
  • You may feel guilty because you have survived when others have not; this is known as “survivor guilt”

Your family and friends may also experience guilt because they are healthy while their loved-one is unwell.1

Do not blame yourself. You are not responsible for getting cancer:

  • Cancers start because of a mistake that occurs when cells divide2
  • There is not just one single cause, such as something you have done2
  • Chance plays a large part in the development of a cancer, whoever the patient is2

It is important to try to let go of feelings of guilt, as it can lead to depression and reduce your general well-being; here are some suggestions for how to let go:1

  • Talk about your feelings with someone you trust, such as a counsellor or social worker
  • Focus on the positive things in your life
  • Find ways to express your emotions, in music or art or by writing about how you feel
  • Attend a support group


  1. Cancer.Net. Coping with guilt Accessed March 2016.
  2. Cancer Research UK. Guilt, blame and anger. Accessed March 2016.