Guilt, blame and anger

You might blame yourself, or other people, for your illness. Understanding more about your cancer may help you feel differently. 

Genetic and lifestyle factors

Many different factors come together to cause a cancer. Often, chance plays a big part and the cancer is not due to anything that you have done. Some people are more likely to develop a cancer because of the genes they inherited at birth. But most cancers are not due to an inherited gene.

Cancers start because of a mistake in copying DNA when normal cells are dividing and growing. Several of these mistakes have to happen before a cell becomes cancerous. 

Although some of our unhealthy behaviour can increase the risk of mistakes in our genes, the mistakes can also just happen by chance as our cells divide and grow.

Even when people know this they may still wonder if the cancer has been caused by something they did.

Talking helps

Because chance plays its part, and doctors rarely know exactly what has caused a cancer, there's no reason to blame yourself or other people. Even so, sometimes it can be hard to get rid of these feelings. Talking about your feelings does help.


You might feel angry with other people. This might be:

  • people close to you
  • doctors and nurses who are caring for you 
  • your God if you are religious
  • people who are well (why should this have happened to you and not to someone else)

Friends and family 

Relatives and friends don't always realise that you are angry about your illness. They might think you are angry with them.

It may help to tell them how you feel at a time when you are not feeling angry. You could ask them to read these pages if talking is difficult.

These feelings may crop up from time to time throughout your illness and treatment.

Relatives may also be angry that your illness has changed things for them and feel that it has caused trouble in their lives. Often this is not even a conscious thought, but their feelings of anger can still be strong.

How talking can help

Expressing your feelings and discussing them openly can help. Bottling them up can make everyone feel upset and cross.

It might help to talk to a trained counsellor or psychologist if you are finding it hard to talk to your family. 

More information

Maudsley Learning, part of the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, has a set of cancer and mental wellbeing videos for people affected by cancer.

The videos have information and advice on what to do if a cancer diagnosis affects your mental health. They cover several topics, including breaking bad news, managing anxiety, common reactions to a diagnosis, and relationships.

Related links