Breast Cancer in women

How breast cancer affects families

The reactions of family members tended to vary greatly. Some family members coped better than expected, while others were unexpectedly more upset.

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Some women described the impact of their diagnosis on siblings, and one woman explained how she had to support and reassure family and relatives. Another recalled that her family's reaction was overwhelming and this made her reluctant to talk to them at the time.

One woman explained that she was anxious about telling family about her diagnosis because her sister had previously died of breast cancer. Several women found that, while family members were often shocked and upset by the news of their diagnosis, they were also supportive and helpful following the initial shock. Practical support was often as important as emotional.  

Some women explained that telling their elderly parents was more difficult than telling other family members, and that they did not want to worry them. Elderly parents often found it difficult accepting the news of their children's ill health while they themselves were well. A young woman, whose family had a history of breast cancer, described having to support her mother. Another, who was reluctant to tell her poorly father, described that she had no other option when she bumped into him at the hospital.

Women were often unsure what and how much to tell children, and this depended very much on a child's age. Several women explained that their grown up children were supportive, and often sought out more information for them or accompanied them to hospital appointments.

One woman described her children being angry and reluctant to discuss her illness. Another discussed the strength of her teenage daughters, and how they took more responsibility for household chores after her diagnosis.

Some women were concerned about their daughters and other female relatives because of their own diagnosis. Those with very young children selectively gave them small amounts of information. Several women stressed the importance of explaining their illness fully to their children in a way they could understand. One of these women described how, having experienced something similar as a child, she was concerned that her son knew the whole story. Many women noted that each child reacted and coped in different ways. Two women with children under seven said they would tell them more about breast cancer when they were able to understand.

Some women discussed how their illness had brought the family closer, and one woman felt that her children were now much more understanding and compassionate. Women also discussed the impact of their diagnosis on their partners (see 'Body image').

Last reviewed August 2018.
Last updated June 2010.

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