Common Questions

What is cancer?

Cancer is a disease of the cells, which are the body's basic building blocks. Your body constantly makes new cells that allow you to grow, that replace worn-out cells, or to heal damaged cells after an injury.

Cancer is when bad cells (trouble-maker cells) stop the good cells from doing their job. Cancer cells start out as good, healthy cells that turn bad. Cells may grow into a lump called a tumour which can be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancer). The bad cells can also cause problems in your blood or spread around your body (metastatic cancer).

Cancer cells have abnormal life cycles; they grow and divide like normal cells but instead of dying like normal cells do, they keep growing and dividing. The problems start when cancer cells grow uncontrollably and sometimes outlast and overtake good cells.

Am I going to die?

Cancer can be very serious and life threatening but many, many people recover fully from cancer and go on to live long, healthy lives. You should talk to doctors and seek second opinions to find out more about how serious your cancer is. We understand you’re scared – so please phone or email to talk to Cancer Support WA’s counsellors who are specialised in cancer and can help you understand the situation and your diagnosis.

Do kids and adults get the same kind of cancer?

Not usually. We still don’t fully understand what causes childhood cancer, but we know that the types of cancers that develop in kids are different from the types that develop in adults. Childhood cancers are often caused by DNA changes in cells that happen very early in life. Childhood cancer can develop as early as when you are in the womb, right up through the teenage years.

Unlike cancers in adults, most childhood cancers are not as strongly linked to lifestyle or environmental risk factors (such as chemicals, extra body fat, lack of exercise, etc.)

What’s the most common childhood cancer?

The most common childhood cancers are acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, brain cancer and neuroblastoma. But kids can get all different kinds of cancers.

Are certain kids more likely to get cancer?

Childhood cancer does not discriminate; it can affect any child from any background – rich or poor; black, white or Asian; boy or girl; baby or teenager.

How can you tell if you have cancer?

Cancer is usually noticed by its symptoms. Symptoms are signs that something is not right in your body. Some of the signs of cancer can include unexplained weight loss, headaches, constant tiredness, nausea or excessive bruising.

However, just because you have some of these symptoms doesn't mean you have cancer! The symptoms of cancer are common to many illnesses, so your doctor would have to do lots of different tests to work out what’s wrong.

How do they test for cancer?

Common tests include x-rays, scans and blood tests. If your usual doctor suspects cancer, they would likely refer you to a specialist to do more tests to find out what type of cancer it is and if it has spread to other parts of your body. When they know exactly what's happening, they will give you a diagnosis (which means telling you that it definitely is or is not cancer) and start to make a plan to treat it.

Can I catch cancer?

No, you cannot catch cancer and it cannot be passed from one person to another. 

Who can help me with my nutrition and wellness?

You can find experts in these kinds of treatments in the Cancer Wellness Clinic at Cancer Support WA.

How do I talk to someone who has cancer?

You may feel like things have changed since you found out that a family member or a friend has cancer. Yes, things have changed, but the love or friendship between you hasn’t. Remember that they are still the person you know and love; they will still want to chat, laugh and have fun. But you may also need to use your best listening skills.

When talking with someone who has cancer, it’s important to listen. Try to hear and understand how they feel. Don’t make out that it’s not a big deal, don’t judge them if they are angry and acting negative, and don’t try to change the way the person feels or acts. Being a good listener is more important to them than anything else.

Try to put your own feelings and fears aside. Let the person know that you are open to talking whenever they feel like it. Some may want to talk about their cancer in detail. Others may not want to talk about it at all. Sometimes, the person’s need to talk will change from day to day. Simply asking, “Would you like to talk about it?” is a direct and respectful way to find out what they need. If the person doesn’t feel like talking right now, that’s okay, too. You can offer to listen again later.

When you don’t know what to say or you are finding it too upsetting to talk about cancer, you can tell your friend or family member that you would like to talk, but don’t feel you are the best person right now. A counsellor, or other friend or family member may be able to offer them more support at this time. You can suggest that they seek support from them. Make sure the person with cancer understands that your trouble talking is your issue, your problem. You may also want to mention that you want to be there for support in spite of this, and hope to be there in the future.

It’s also okay to tell them how you feel. If you are scared or confused, you can share that, but try to be brief in your explanation so you don’t over-burden your loved one and cause them more distress. If you find it hard to stay calm, give yourself some time away before talking about it again. Most importantly, you need to talk about your feelings with someone who can help. Seek out a trusted adult (such as a teacher, parent, aunty/uncle, school nurse, school chaplain, etc.) or phone Solaris Cancer Care on (08) 9384 3544. Remember, our counsellors are trained in dealing with all the issues associated with cancer.

Where can I go to talk to someone about how I’m feeling?

Solaris Cancer Care offers a free counselling service for families affected by cancer. Sessions are available for children, teens and adults individually or as a family. We also provide art therapy sessions at Solaris Cancer Care. Please contact us to find out about our programs and and counselling.