How to Help a Loved One With Breast Cancer

A breast cancer diagnosis affects all members of a person's family, and caregivers are likely to have many questions as they care for a loved one battling cancer. Though it can feel overwhelming, it is possible for caregivers to provide support for a loved one with breast cancer while also balancing their own needs.

This article provides information on caring for someone with breast cancer medically, practically, and emotionally. It also discusses what to avoid, how to talk to someone with breast cancer, and how to practice self-care.

Caregiver helping a loved one living with breast cancer.
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What You Need to Know About Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer among people assigned female at birth globally. It requires a lot of medical care, much of which occurs outside of the hospital. If detected early, breast cancer has a high survival rate. In fact, over 80% of people with breast cancer are likely to have undetectable signs of the illness five years after the initial diagnosis.

The risk for developing breast cancer increases with age, family history, and other factors, including having children later in life and an unhealthy lifestyle.

It's essential to follow all instructions from medical professionals to ensure the best possible outcome. Having a caregiver available to attend appointments and help make decisions can make things easier.

Breast Cancer Rates in Women and Men

Although both men and women can be diagnosed with breast cancer, diagnosis is 100 times higher in women than in men.

Responsibilities of Caring for Someone With Breast Cancer

Caring for someone with breast cancer requires time and energy. This puts a greater burden on family members and loved ones to provide medical, practical, and emotional support.

Medical Care

If you are a caregiver for a loved one with breast cancer, you may need to assist with aspects of medical care. This can include administering medications, understanding and managing side effects, and attending medical appointments.

Practical Care

A person going through breast cancer treatment may find basic daily tasks draining and overwhelming. They may turn to you for support for practical care needs, such as grocery shopping, preparing meals, helping with childcare, doing the laundry, and helping with finances. Those with breast cancer may also need help with tasks like eating, going to the bathroom, and getting dressed. 

Emotional Care

Part of being a caregiver often means supporting a person's emotional needs. Fear related to pain, recovery, or death, limited independence, and other concerns are likely to emerge. The amount and type of support needed will vary from person to person, but most people with breast cancer will need some form of emotional care at some point during their recovery. Emotional care might mean offering a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on, or support during therapy.

Depression and Cancer

According to one source, mental distress is common in patients with cancer, but even when depression is present, it is only diagnosed in less than 30% of people with cancer. It's important to pay attention to signs of mental distress in cancer patients, which can be overlooked during constant medical procedures and appointments.

How You Can Help Someone With Breast Cancer

Coping with breast cancer can be difficult and overwhelming. There are many ways to be helpful beyond providing medical and practical help. For instance:

  • Stay in touch: Let the person know that you care and are available to help. Check in every few days, but try not to overwhelm them.
  • Offer to find them support: Finding a support group or therapist can be difficult. Offer to help locate one if they are interested.
  • Be patient: Coping with breast cancer can be frightening, painful, and very difficult. Be patient and kind with the person as they navigate their recovery.
  • Start a conversation about mental health: Poor mental health can negatively impact cancer treatment and health outcomes. If you notice your loved one's mental health deteriorating, talk to them about your concerns. Offer to find help or to take them to their therapy appointment.

How to Talk to a Loved One With Breast Cancer

When supporting someone with breast cancer, try to show empathy and validation without minimizing the person's feelings. Here are some tips:

  • Give your full attention to show you're listening and that you care.
  • Ask open-ended rather than "yes" or "no" questions. This tells them you're interested in hearing more.
  • Offer validation by saying things like, "That sounds like it was challenging for you," or, "I can see how sad this makes you feel."
  • Remind them that they are not alone.
  • Avoid saying you know exactly how they feel; it can minimize their experience.
  • Avoid making promises you can't keep, like, "Everything is going to be OK," or, "You aren't going to die from this."
  • Take cues from them regarding if and when they want to talk. Don't force them to open up; let them know you're there to listen if and when they're ready to share.

When to Intervene

While caring for someone with breast cancer, there may be situations that are too difficult for you to manage alone. A medical professional should be contacted immediately if:

  • A change in medication is needed, either in the type of medication or in frequency
  • There is a concern about self-harm or suicide
  • There is a noticeable change in the person's physical condition

Never try to adjust a person's medicine or intervene alone in an emergency.

If you or someone you know are having suicidal thoughts, contact the 988 Suicide & Crisis LIfeline (formerly the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline) at 988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one is in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Tips for Yourself as a Caregiver

Being a caregiver or family member of someone with breast cancer can take its toll. A cancer diagnosis can bring fear, exhaustion, frustration, helplessness, and many other responses. When someone in the family has breast cancer, it can impact everyone's quality of life and affect relationships. In addition to the emotional aspect of being a caregiver, the everyday medical and practical demands of caregiving can lead to caregiver strain or burnout.

Tips to avoid burnout as a caregiver include:

  • Take breaks: You may not want to leave the person's side, but you both need breaks from one another.
  • Do things that bring joy: Activities that make you happy will reduce stress and help you recharge so you can continue to be a supportive caregiver.
  • Take care of your health: Get enough sleep and exercise, and eat healthy foods; pay attention to your own health needs.
  • Find an outlet: Identify your own support systems outside of your loved one with breast cancer. You'll need people to talk to and rely on when caregiving gets difficult.

Caregiver Burnout

One study has revealed that being a caregiver to someone with cancer takes more of a toll than caring for people with dementia or the frail elderly.


Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in women globally. Though there is high survivorship with early detection and treatment, receiving a breast cancer diagnosis often comes with fear, pain, confusion, and many support needs. Providing care to those with breast cancer involves practical, medical, and emotional support.

Caregivers should seek professional help if the person needs a change in medication, is showing signs of physical or mental distress, or has a change in their condition. When supporting someone with breast cancer, always give your full attention when listening, ask open-ended questions, provide validation, and try not to make empty promises.

Caring for someone with breast cancer can be challenging. Take care of yourself by taking breaks, doing things you enjoy, taking care of your health, and finding a support system.

A Word From Verywell

A breast cancer diagnosis affects the whole family. If you care for someone you love, you probably have your own emotional reactions, fears, concerns, and questions. Try to balance your caregiving responsibilities with activities that bring you joy and take care of your health and well-being.

You can care for your loved one with breast cancer in many ways, but you can only be effective if you also care for yourself and don't burn out. Find a support group or network that supports your mental wellness as you support your loved one.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How can I help someone with breast cancer?

    A person diagnosed with breast cancer will likely need a lot of support. This includes practical help like buying groceries and cleaning, emotional help like listening and giving advice, and medical help like administering medication and attending appointments.

  • How can I be an effective caregiver for someone with breast cancer?

    When caring for someone with breast cancer, you can offer to help with tasks the person can no longer do alone. Ask how you can support them, and listen to their responses. Try to provide validation of their feelings, and give them your full attention. Don't make assumptions about what a person might want or need.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Sun YS, Zhao Z, Yang ZN, et al. Risk factors and preventions of breast cancer. Int J Biol Sci. 2017;13(11):1387-1397. doi: 10.7150/ijbs.21635.

  3. Kochaki Nejad Z, Mohajjel Aghdam A, Hassankhani H, et al. The effects of a patient-caregiver education and follow-up program on the breast cancer caregiver strain index. Iran Red Crescent Med J. 2016;18(3):e21627. doi: 10.5812/ircmj.21627.

  4. Kim J, Lim S, Min YH, et al. Depression screening using daily mental-health ratings from a smartphone application for breast cancer patients. Journal of Medical Internet Research. 2016;18(8):e5598. doi: 10.2196/jmir.5598.