How to break the bad news of cancer

When given a diagnosis, such as cancer, it is important to  figure out how to tell others, especially your family. Its not easy breaking news when you have not even been able to come to grips with it yourself. Here is a script to help you get started. This also appears in the appendix of my book.

  1. Find out what they already know.

“What did I tell you were the possible outcomes of today’s tests?”

  1. Give aWarning shot.”

“The news is not as good as we had hoped, in fact it was worse than we expected.” PAUSE

3. Break the news at a pace they can understand and in chunks.

“Dad has cancer.”[pause and count to 10] “Dad’s cancer is terminal.”[pause and count to 10]“Dad’s prognosis is limited.”[pause and count to 10]

4.Acknowledge their reaction.

“I know this is unexpected for you. It was for us as well, and it’s so hard to hear and to believe.”

5.Allow shock and the impact of the news to hit — say nothing — let them react and wait until they ask questions or make comments.


6.Deal with their emotions and questions as best you can.

“I know this is so hard to take, and I am worried also. We don’t have all the answers, but you know Dad is going to do this better than anyone. We will know more next week when we see the oncologist. We are all in shock.”

  1. End with words of love and support.

“Whatever happens, we will do this together. None of us will go through this alone. We will be there for Dad, and we will be there for each other.”


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