It is estimated that 1 in 2 people will get some form of cancer during their lifetime, so all of us will in some way be affected by this disease in one of its many forms. When it comes to loved ones suffering from the illness, there are a number of things you can do to help them, even prior to diagnosis, as you may be able to spot warning signs that they might miss. Dr. Jan Schaefer, Chief Medical Officer at MEDIGO (, the leading platform for booking safe medical travel, comments:

What your loved one might need is someone to listen to them – their worries, fears, hopes and frustrations.

What your loved one might need is someone to listen to them – their worries, fears, hopes and frustrations.

Signs to look out for

Every instance of cancer is unique and manifests itself in different ways in different people, but there are some common signs for a number of cancers. But don’t forget that these symptoms alone are not a sign of cancer, and only a doctor can confirm a proper diagnosis. Some potential signs might be:

-       Unusual lumps or swelling: A relatively common sign of a number of cancers. Your loved one might not notice the swelling or may not pay any attention to it. However, urge them to have it checked out by a GP – any lumps in the neck, stomach, groin, armpit, breast or testicle should be taken seriously.

-       Skin changes: Perhaps your loved one has developed a new mole, or a mole they have had for years has suddenly changed shape or colour. While most moles are completely harmless, some, especially those that change in appearance, might be a sign of cancer.

-       Weight loss: Most of us will have occasional weight fluctuations, losing or gaining a few pounds here and there. However, if you notice that your loved one is consistently losing weight, no matter how much they eat, urge them to make an appointment with their GP.

-       Unusual bleeding: Effectively, anything that is out of the norm. For example, bleeding between periods, blood in the stool, bleeding during coughing or while urinating should all be of concern and are signs that something isn’t quite right in the body. While it might not mean cancer, getting any unusual bleeding checked out can do no harm.


If your loved one has been diagnosed with cancer, often the natural impulse is to try and help, whether it is by giving advice or providing useful information. But remember that your loved one will be getting all the medical help they can get from their team of doctors, who will be fully informed on the condition. What your loved one might need, instead, is someone to listen to them – their worries, fears, hopes and frustrations.

Offer to attend appointments

Some people might prefer to visit their oncologist and team of doctors on their own, whereas others would prefer to have someone with them. Offer to go with your loved one. If you do attend, listen carefully to what the doctors say and make notes to help your loved one keep all relevant information in one place. If they prefer to attend appointments on their own, respect their decision.

Help them find support

Cancer can be an isolating experience, and no matter how willing you are to listen to your loved one, you won’t know what their experience of having cancer is really like, even if you have suffered from the disease, too. Remember that all forms of cancer – and all experiences – are different. What you can do is keep an eye out for support groups in your local region. If none are available, there are plenty of online communities, and most cancer charities will offer support.

Help them during treatment

Each person and every instance of cancer can be treated in a unique way – treatments include surgery, radiotherapy or chemotherapy, as well as combinations of these and many other methods. There are many small things that make treatments easier. For example, chemotherapy, body lotion and chapstick might be useful during chemotherapy as skin tends to become very dry and painful.

Lastly, cancer is tiring for the patient – medical appointments and treatments alone can be exhausting, in addition to the stress and worry. However, having cancer doesn’t mean their day-to-day life stops – meals still need to be made, houses cleaned and children looked after. Offer to help with these small things and make sure to follow through with them. Small things like this can be exceptionally helpful and go a long way in helping your loved one. 

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