Purpose of this policy

To ensure schools support students with cancer.

Prerequisite policy

See: Health Care Needs.


Schools must implement strategies to assist students with cancer and ensure that they have a Student Health Support Plan.

See: Health Support Planning Forms within Related policies below.


Cancer occurs when cells in the body:

  • multiply in an uncontrolled way
  • form a mass that affects the normal function of the surrounding tissues.

If cancer is not successfully treated at this stage, metastasis occurs.  This means cancer cells can break away and spread through the bloodstream or lymphatic system to other parts of the body.

Cancer in children and adolescents:

  • requires different treatment to adults as its extent and nature is different
  • has a very high survival rate with over 70% cured depending on the:
    • type of cancer
    • extent of the disease when first diagnosed
    • patient’s age
  • is not contagious
  • may go into remission
  • may be in one of the following forms:
    • brain tumour
    • leukaemia
    • lymphoma
    • neuroblastoma
    • osteosarcoma
    • Ewings sarcoma
    • retinoblastoma
    • soft tissue sarcoma or Wilms’ tumour.

Impact at school

This table describes how cancer and its treatment can impact students.

Note: Cancer may have many effects, and each instance is unique. The following is not an exhaustive list of impacts.

Area impacted Students being treated for cancer may experience


  • absence/prolonged absence from school

Learning and wellbeing

difficulty with:

  • reduced attention and concentration (mental fatigue)
  • memory (short-term and long-term)
  • problem-solving
  • planning
  • organisation
  • slowed thinking and understanding
  • visual perceptual deficits
  • new learning or specific problems with certain types of learning, such as mathematics.

Susceptibility to infectious diseases

  • weakened immunity to infectious diseases. Exposure to diseases such as measles or chickenpox can be very serious and even life-threatening.

Schools should consult with the family and ask their community for notification of students infected with measles or chickenpox.

Note: A sample letter to the school community is available in the Royal Children’s Hospital resource When a student has cancer, see:  Other resources below

Physical abilities

  • physical fatigue, limited strength and endurance
  • less willingness to participate in physical activities owing to changes in body image caused by changes such as:
    • hair loss
    • limb loss from amputation
    • weight changes
  • co-ordination difficulties, including hand and limb tremors which can impact on:
    • recording of school work
    • participating in self-care and other activities in school
  • balance problems which may result in safety issues
  • a change in their reproductive ability which may:
    • impact on self-perceptions
    • cause distress when learning about sexuality.

Social skills

  • changes in social connections with their peers. It is not always possible to predict how each student or their family will react to different events.


Schools should ensure that medical advice is received from the student’s health practitioner ideally by completing the Department’s General Medical Advice Form – Cancer.

This table describes how schools can support students with cancer.

Activities including camps

With good planning students should be encouraged to participate in sporting and physical activities including camps.  The condition may limit the extent to which the student is able to participate.

The school should receive any extra medical information by the parents completing the Department’s Confidential Medical Information for School Council Approved School Excursions form. 

Communicating with parents

Regularly communicate with the student’s parents about the student’s successes, development, changes and any health and education concerns. 

Establish support networks

A positive and available support network is important to maintain students social connections with their peers and the school community. A support network should be developed understanding the needs of the student, family and school and should adapt as the needs of the student and others change.

Camp Quality puppets

These puppets can be used with primary students to:

  • develop empathy and understanding
  • deal with physical and emotional changes.

See: Other resources below

Related policies

Other resources

For more information: