Skip main navigation

Why do we need to talk about cancer?

Alex King - mother, health awareness volunteer with Cancer Research UK and a cancer survivor - explains why talking about cancer is so important.

Alex King is a mother, a teaching assistant, a health awareness volunteer with Cancer Research UK and a cancer survivor.

Watch Alex explain why talking about cancer is so important.

What you will learn over the next three weeks

Over the next three weeks we will help you develop the confidence to have simple, effective conversations that could help save lives.

By the end of this course you will:

  • Have the tips, tools and confidence to have meaningful conversations about cancer.
  • Be aware of the key facts and health messages about cancer prevention, screening and early diagnosis, and be able to explain them.
  • Be able to deal effectively with the barriers and challenges you may come across when having cancer conversations.
  • Be able to direct people to the right places for advice and support, and encourage practical action.

Three weeks, about an hour a week

You should expect to spend about an hour a week on the course, although it may take slightly longer depending on how much time you spend reading the links and articles. You can download course videos, transcripts and related PDFs to review at a later date, or use as proof of learning.

In Week 1 we’ll focus on common perceptions and views about cancer. We’ll also learn reliable facts and health messages to help you improve your understanding and have more effective conversations about cancer.

In Week 2 we’ll look at barriers that can prevent people from making healthy changes or visiting the doctor. We’ll learn about how we can help people overcome barriers and encourage them to take action.

In Week 3 we’ll think about our own feelings and how these may affect our conversations. We’ll also look at some key sources of information you can use, and help you draw up your own action plan for talking about cancer.

There is a multiple-choice quiz each week, but don’t worry it’s only so that you can test yourself to see what you have learned. We have also provided suggestions for further reading, identified as `See Also’ at the end of some steps.

The entire course is available at the start, so you can choose to proceed faster than the recommended three weeks.

Learning from each other

We’re very excited about working with you. Please take the time to join in the activities and discussions during the course. The comments section will be a valuable place to share your experience and post questions. That way, you can learn from each other as well as from the course content. The comments section is in the margin of large screens, or at the bottom of small screens.

You can bookmark comments if you want to look back at anything anyone has said which particularly interests you.

At the end of each week we will upload a PDF containing more information on key themes and topics discussed by learners that week, so if you progress through the course quickly, you may want to go back and review these guides.


The course material should not be used as a source of individual medical advice or the basis for making individual medical decisions. All medical decisions should be taken in discussion with an appropriate health professional. We recommend you discuss any personal health concerns with a GP.

If you or someone close to you has been diagnosed with cancer, please speak to the relevant specialist if you have questions. For information and support, UK residents may also wish to call the Cancer Research UK Nurse Helpline, on 0808 800 40 40, Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm.

Notes about the course

All information and data sources can be found on the Cancer Research UK website, unless otherwise referenced.

Cancer statistics were current as of April 2019. For the most recent UK information, visit the statistics section of the Cancer Research UK website.

The course opens links in the same window on your browser. If you’d prefer to open a link in a new window, please do the following: on a PC, right click on the link to open in a new window; on a Mac, press the Control or Ctrl key and click; on a touch-screen device you can press down on a link for a few seconds to open a new window.

Throughout the course we use the term ‘GP,’ which is the UK term for a person’s primary healthcare doctor or ‘general practitioner’.

Using FutureLearn

If this is your first FutureLearn course, you might find it useful to read this guide to using the platform: Using FutureLearn.

Activity and discussion

Please use the comments section to share the following:

  • why you’re doing the course
  • what you’re hoping to gain from it
  • if you work in health or a relevant field, please do also share your role and what you hope to use the course for

This will help us make sure we’ve included the most relevant content, and will also benefit other learners who may work in a similar area and want to connect with you.

Every time we run Talking About Cancer we review all learner feedback and work to improve what we offer, so we truly value all your comments!

If you want to share your impressions of the course on social media, please use the hashtag #FLTalkingCancer.

What’s next?

In the next step, we meet our lead educators Gill Kilgour and Gwen Kaplan, lead cancer awareness trainers at Cancer Research UK. In the comments section you may also see information posted by Cancer Research UK course mentors Gillian Bartlett and Emma Fox.

Please take a moment to fill out Cancer Research UK’s short, optional, pre-course survey. By following this link, you will be taken to the Microsoft Forms website, the use of which has been arranged by Cancer Research UK.

When you are finished on this step, click the `Mark as complete’ button before using the arrow (below right) to move onto the next step.

This article is from the free online

Talking About Cancer: Reducing Risk, Early Detection and Myth-busting

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now