Communicating with young people who are worried about cancer

Good communication can have a huge impact when working with young people. Jo Stark, Chief Nurse for TYAC and Children's Cancer and Leukaemia Group (CCLG) talks about some key points for cancer professionals to keep in mind when working with young people.

Be open and honest.

Answer questions that patients ask and try not to brush over them. Patients could ask questions that may not seem important to be asking at that time, but it is important to acknowledge and answer them. This may help them to put aside a worry and know that you are aware of their concerns and that it will be revisited when appropriate.

Be respectful.

Young people are very aware of changes in their bodies, and they should always be listened to and not made to feel belittled if they report a change or worry.

Patients may not hold the same views as clinicians and may not always follow guidance that is recommended.

Giving time to understand where they are coming from and exploring their thoughts and understanding can really help to build the patient/clinician relationship and help in the treatment journey.

Where possible can any changes be made to treatment timing.

There may not be the possibility for any changes in schedules, but if a patient wants to move a treatment day is this possible, could their treatment be managed in a way that allows them to still maintain some of their normal routine or allow them to continue to work or study.

Give patients the opportunity to see you alone.

They may not feel comfortable talking about some things in front of their parents or you may need to ask some sensitive questions. So, at the beginning of the appointment explain that there will be time in the appointment where the patient will be seen on their own and their parents will be asked to wait outside.

Identify other professionals who may be able to help with communication.

This could be a nurse, social worker, youth support coordinator, etc. They can support patients in several settings and helps to demonstrate to patients the joint working between teams and how the team as a whole works to support patients.

Think about the way in which young people communicate.

For example, over text, WhatsApp, etc. They may be happy to have a conversation over text but won’t answer a phone call. Think about who can help facilitate text contact with them if needed.

Patients can feel very out of control and feel that they have no power over what is happening, so they may take risks and not follow guidance to help give them some control back.

Be aware of this and where possible help them to feel in control. This could be around when they have their treatment, flexibility with appointments, if possible, and making sure to explain why if things can’t be changed or allowed to make sure that they have all the information to make full informed choices.