According to the National Cancer Registry, more than 10 000 South Africans are diagnosed with cancer every year and it is important to know how to support a loved one.

An attempt to say the right compassionate words, one can often end up saying the wrong thing.

The following are inappropriate words of sympathy:

10. ‘I know how you feel.’

Every individual cancer patient will have their own experience of the illness, so avoid relating the negatives of another person’s condition.

09. ‘Your family will be fine. It is not that bad.’

Cancer doesn’t only affect the patient. It affects their family members and friends as well. Caregivers or family members of someone with cancer might also experience some form of emotional stress as part of the natural human response.

08. ‘It can’t be that sore.’

Downplaying a person’s pain may not be the best mood-lifting strategy. Cancer can be painful and treatments such as chemotherapy, radiation and surgery can potentially be an additional source of pain.

07. ‘Just be grateful for what you have.’

Cancer patients too often encounter people who assume the role of cheerleader, saying things like “Don’t worry about it.” “You’ll be fine!” . Words of optimism may work in the short run, but in the long run they can induce guilt if the cancer is more virulent and defeats a person’s best effort.

06. ‘God will answer your prayers to get better.’

When comforting a cancer patient, you should keep your personal beliefs to yourself.

05. ‘You should Google treatments for cancer.’

Just as no two cancer patients are alike, no two cancers are alike. Each circumstance is unique and comes with its own set of problems to be solved. Many cancers can be controlled and many new treatments are being developed. However, you should trust your loved one to make their own choices according to the information they receive from their doctors.

04. ‘Only eat veggies and fruit.’

You should never suggest that a person’s lifestyle is to blame for cancer. Even if it may have been a contributing cause, blame is never helpful. Many factors influence cancer risk, but getting cancer is often just bad luck.

03. ‘Your doctor (or any relevant medical therapist) is not competent.’

Family members may often doubt healthcare workers’ capabilities because cancer can be very unpredictable. Instead of questioning the abilities of professionals, family members should trust their loved one’s medical team to find the best plan to tackle the next stage of treatment.

02. ‘Alternative medication will not work.’

It’s important for patients to make their own choices when they choose a treatment. By openly discouraging a treatment, you can easily foster doubt in a patient’s mind.

01. ‘Your body has changed/The tumour in your neck is growing.’

“We all want to be told we look good. Therefore avoid stating the obvious by focusing on a cancer victim’s physical transformations.