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Telling family and friends about your breast cancer

Telling loved ones about your breast cancer can be difficult. But talking to them can help. Learn about how you can approach these conversations and how different people might react.

Breaking the news of your breast cancer to family and friends can be very difficult, and you might worry about how they will react.

You may still be coming to terms with your diagnosis yourself. You might be worried about how and when to tell them, and that they will ask questions you can’t answer. But, being open about your cancer can help you cope and also make it easier for people to support you.

1. How should I tell others about my breast cancer?

Who you tell and how you tell them is a very personal decision. You may only want to tell a few people, or ask others to help you pass the information on. Having an informed family member or friend with you can give you some support when letting others know.

It can be helpful to start with the basic facts about your diagnosis and treatment options, and let the conversation progress naturally from there. You may not want to give detailed information or you may not know much yourself yet. If you don’t want to or can’t go into a lot of detail at first, you could give people some written information. We have lots of booklets and leaflets that you can order or direct people to.

You may find it easier to tell people in a letter or email, and then perhaps discuss it with them later. Some people use private groups on social media (such as Facebook or WhatsApp) as they find it easier updating everyone together and not having to repeat themselves to different people.

Make sure you are clear about who they can tell if you don’t want everyone to know.

2. How might people react?

People react in different ways to difficult news. How they respond might depend on:

  1. How close they are to you
  2. Whether they were expecting it
  3. What their own experience is with cancer and serious illnesses

Some may be upset and worried, some might feel uncomfortable and others may struggle to take it in.

The word ‘cancer’ has negative associations for most people, and they might react in an insensitive way without meaning to. If people say inappropriate things, it’s often because they are feeling overwhelmed, frightened or helpless. Equally, it can feel like people are avoiding talking to you about your cancer, but they might just be worried about upsetting you.

Some people may be ‘over-positive’ because they are trying to make you feel better about your diagnosis. They may use phrases like ‘fighting cancer’ and ‘battling your disease’. This can make it feel like you should have control over your situation and any setback is your fault. It might also make you feel as though you have to keep a ‘stiff upper lip’ and can’t have any ‘down’ days.

You may find it helps to talk to people about how you’re feeling – explaining to them how you view your breast cancer can change the way they speak to you if you are finding their comments insensitive or hurtful. Everyone deals with difficult news in different ways, so it can be really helpful to discuss your feelings with those close to you and let them know how they can help you.

Try not to feel like you need to put on a brave face for the benefit of others, or that you need to hide your feelings, as this can feel like an extra burden.

3. What should I tell my children about my breast cancer?

If you have children, telling them about your breast cancer may be one of the most difficult things you have to do.

It’s usually best to be open, as children can worry even more if they think you are hiding things from them. You will know your child better than anyone else, but it can still be very difficult to know what to say to them.

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Quality assurance

Last reviewed in October 2018. The next planned review began in February 2023.

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