Endorsed by the European Oncology Nursing Society

Having the conversation

Having the conversation  image

Only you know the best time to talk about your diagnosis.1 You might feel more comfortable initiating the conversation with close family and friends before sharing with a wider circle.2 Discussing your cancer diagnosis with love ones and acquaintances will give them the opportunity to support you as you take the next steps in your cancer treatment.3

While there is no formula on how to break the news of your diagnosis, there are some strategies you can use to make the process more manageable:

  • First work through how you feel about your diagnosis 1
  • Be empathetic; although you are talking about your diagnosis, keep in mind how the person you are telling might be feeling and that they might not react the way you would like them to1,2,4
  • Plan out what you will say ahead of time4
  • Deliver the news in comfortable surroundings, at a time when the person you are telling is receptive and undistracted5
  • Explain your situation gradually, leaving pauses in the conversation for the person to absorb the news and respond; do not be afraid of silences5
  • Be truthful as you describe your diagnosis5
  • Ask for help if you need it; a close friend or family member can support you by sharing information with others if you feel too tired or emotional to do it5
  • It may also be useful if you appoint one person to regularly pass on news of your progress, as you may find it too emotional to have repeated conversations3,5

Asking yourself how you feel and what you expect of the person you are telling before you start a conversation will give you a solid foundation and will help you to approach the subject with clarity and empathy.2,4 And remember, discussing your situation might get easier as you come to terms with your diagnosis.1



  1. American Cancer Society. Telling your family and friends. Accessed March 2016.
  2. American Cancer Society. A guide for patients and families. Accessed March 2016.
  3. Cancer.Net. Family, friends and relationships. Accessed March 2016.
  4. Breastcancer.org. Talking to other relatives and friends. Accessed March 2016.
  5. Macmillan. Friends and family. Accessed March 2016.