Advocacy Toolkit #5

The Facts

Stigma is one of the biggest challenges in identification, reporting and treatment of childhood, young adult, and adult cancers. [1] In the stigma cycle, lack of information leads to poor knowledge of cancer which enables the entertainment of myths and dangerous misconceptions, which then cannot be dispelled without the provision of good cancer information and education. In other words, it breeds silence, which fuels the fear and ignorance, which in turns continues feeding stigma. These negative public perceptions make patients feel invisible, stifle informed public discussion, and perpetuate a cycle of fear, silence and misinformation – which negatively impacts awareness efforts, hinders healthy behaviour, and contributes to lack of early diagnosis. [2]

There are three categories of stigma:

  • Self-stigma – where the person with cancer personally feels shame or guilt around their diagnosis.
  • Perceived stigma – where the patient perceives that others are judging them negatively, based on their cancer diagnosis.
  • Active stigma – for example, a husband leaves his wife because of the stigma around cancer, or an employer fires an employee because they think a cancer survivor is in constant pain and cannot continue working, or neighbours who isolate patients because they afraid of “catching” cancer, and don’t want “that influence” in their community. [3]


  • To break the vicious cycle of fear and misinformation.
  •  To break down ignorance that is impacting cancer stigma
  • To understand and respond to cultural beliefs and practices.
  •  To work to counter discrimination in the workplace.
  •  Effective public health and health promotion programmes.
  •  Support from the media to combat stigma.
  •  Systemic changes supported by policy and legislation to protect cancer
    patients and their carers from discrimination.
  •  To make sure that staff are well informed about cance


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