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Discussing Cancer With Children

Peninsula Radiation - Friday, December 22, 2017

Covering A Difficult Topic With Different Age Groups

When discussing the complex topic of cancer, it can be difficult for a child to establish a strong understanding depending on their age. In order to reach this understanding, it’s important to craft the discussion so it caters to them and how their mind processes information. At Peninsula Radiation Oncology Center, we want to provide you with the information you need to communicate about the complicated topic of cancer with children of different age groups. You’ll find a guide below.

Early Childhood: Ages 3 - 7

Between the ages of three and five, children are still in their early stages of verbal development, gaining the ability to communicate with those around them. However, they still have trouble distinguishing reality from their imagination. By the time children reach the ages of six or seven, they may have a better grasp on communication, but still have a mentality that focuses on themselves rather than others.

The approach to discussing cancer with this age group consists of keeping things simple and focused around the child. It’s difficult for them to grasp concepts that go beyond themselves and they tend to relate everything back to how it affects them. Using simple terminology that they would be familiar with is essential for their understanding, and answering any questions they have will allow them to come to that understanding at their own pace. Since their thoughts are often driven by fear, letting them know that cancer isn’t contagious and reassuring them that they were not the cause of the cancer may help put them at ease.

Late Childhood: Ages 8 - 12

Around the ages of eight and nine, children are starting to value relationships with family members more, becoming a bit more accustomed to the idea of not always being the center of attention, but may still have difficulty dealing with it emotionally. Once they hit ages ten through twelve, they begin displaying more general interest and curiosity in things beyond themselves.

When introducing this age group to the concept of cancer, they can handle a more detailed explanation since they have a better understanding about how to the body works and what being sick is like. Their curiosity will typically cause them to seek out information on cancer on their own, so make yourself available to them to answer their questions and help quell any fears. They may also be more interested in ways they can help those who have been diagnosed.

Teenager: Ages 13 - 19

In the early teenage years, you will start seeing more of a shift into maturity, gaining the ability to acknowledge perspectives other than their own and empathize with others. As they continue on into their middle to late teenage years, their natural curiosity and thirst for knowledge and understanding continues to grow.

Teenagers will be able to easily grasp the concept of cancer and its effects on the body, daily life, and the importance of treatment. Compared to other age groups, teens don’t need to see the effects of cancer through visual stimuli to understand them. They may show a higher degree of concern for some of the physical side effects of treatment, such as hair loss or weight gain. It’s important to reassure them that these are to be expected, and that what their loved ones need is encouragement.

Important Tips For All Age Groups

Cancer is always a challenging topic to discuss, and while children can vary in their development and ability to discuss the concept, below are some important things that you should keep in mind when talking about cancer with any age group:

  • Be Open - Encourage children to ask questions and share their thoughts on the situation.
  • Be Understanding - When they do share their thoughts and fears, reassure them that you understand and that how they feel is valid.
  • Educate Yourself - By doing research of your own, you will be prepared to answer most of the questions that come your way.
  • Get Help From Others - It’s okay to not always know the answer, that’s why there are doctors, nurses, and many more people that can help you.
  • Provide Updates - If the child lives in the same house as someone who is undergoing treatment, let them know when they will be out of the house or how they might feel when they return home from treatment.

Contact Your Local Cancer Treatment Center!

If you need help talking to children about cancer, just contact your local cancer care experts at the Peninsula Radiation Oncology Center here in Soldotna, AK. We’ve worked with countless families who have battled cancer together, and we know that having an understanding of what your loved ones are up against will help you provide the support that they need during the treatment process. Our physician and medical staff are ready to help guide you with the information you need about a wide range of cancer conditions and treatments.


At Peninsula Radiation Oncology Center, we know that cancer patients are best served by being treated in close proximity to a support network of family and friends. We offer patients in Southeast Alaska the ability to receive state-of-the-art radiation therapy without the burden of traveling great distances away from home.The information presented on this website is provided to allow our patients to gain more knowledge about our center, our staff, and our services.

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