Oncologist-approved cancer information from the American Society of Clinical Oncology
Printer Friendly
Download PDF

Cancer and School

This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 11/2011

Listen to the Cancer.Net Podcast: Just for Teens - €”Cancer and School, adapted from this content.

One of your immediate concerns may be how to handle both school and cancer. Whether you're trying to keep up with your classes or wondering how your classmates will react, here are things you and your parents can do to help make the process easier:

  • Talk with school staff
  • Stay involved in school
  • Keep up with schoolwork
  • Interact with classmates

Talking with the school staff

Because you may be absent more than usual or find it hard to keep up with your schoolwork, it's important for your parents to contact the school guidance counselor, teachers, and other school staff about your cancer and treatment. Some hospitals have educational coordinators or social workers who can meet with school staff to help explain your situation and needs. If possible, talk with your doctor to estimate how long you may be away from school.

Staying involved

There may be times during treatment when you can't go to school on a regular basis. However, staying involved with school as much as you can may help you feel closer to your friends and makes it easier to go back when you're ready. Here's how to stay involved:

  • Keep in touch with your friends online or through texting, instant messaging, e-mail, phone calls, or visits. Or, you and your friends can use web cams or cell phone cameras to send messages to each other.
  • If possible, try to arrange to go to school for special events like games, assemblies, or plays.

Keeping up with schoolwork

If you're missing school because of appointments or treatments, ask for help in keeping up with schoolwork. Fatigue (feeling really tired and worn out) or nausea (feeling like you have to vomit, or throw up) can also make it hard to concentrate. These suggestions can help:

  • Ask a friend to take notes for you if you miss a class.
  • Ask teachers if you can photocopy their notes or record their classes.
  • Ask teachers to reduce your homework load, if possible.
  • Consider asking for a reduced schedule—maybe you can skip a gym class or an elective class and concentrate on core subjects such as math and English.
  • Ask your teachers if they would be willing to e-mail you assignments or send work home with a sibling or friend.
  • Consider getting a tutor or hospital teacher to help you with your work from home or the hospital.

Remember that your health is the primary focus now, and schoolwork can wait, if necessary, until you are well again. Try not to feel embarrassed or upset if you need special attention at school. Let your teachers and counselor know that you are doing your best to keep up and that you appreciate any help they can give you.

Interacting with your classmates

Your classmates will react to your cancer differently. How they react may depend on how much school you have missed or if your appearance has changed (for example, if you have temporarily lost your hair). The following suggestions may help as you interact with your classmates:

  • Ask a parent or teacher to give the class some basic information about your cancer and treatment. Or, if you feel comfortable, ask your teachers to arrange a time for you to tell the class about your cancer.
  • If you decide to talk with your classmates yourself, decide what you're going to say; you may want a parent or the school counselor to be there to help answer questions. If you feel you are in control, you will be more comfortable and the conversation will flow more smoothly.
  • If you decide to have someone else, such as a parent or a counselor do the talking, decide whether you want to be there and how much you want people to know.
  • Be prepared to answer questions, but if someone asks you something you don't want to answer, it's fine just to say, "I'd rather not talk about that."

Any information you feel comfortable giving can go a long way toward helping your classmates better understand your situation. Many people are just curious and simply want to help in some way.

Getting help

Don't forget that you don't have to deal with school issues by yourself. If you need help, talk with someone you trust, such as your parents, your doctor, or a counselor.

More Information

Returning to School After Cancer

Cancer in Teens: Returning to School After Treatment

Cancer in Teens

Additional Resources

Group Loop: School

Teens Living With Cancer: School Issues

© 2005-2014 American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). All rights reserved worldwide.

Connect With Us: