Why did I get cancer?

This is a question many people who have had cancer ask. There’s no simple answer or simple way of thinking about it. It is not linked to something we have done, or not done. There are lots of reasons, and it’s hard to find out if there is just one cause.

Cancer is a disease, and it makes cells inside the body grow in a way that is not normal and it makes people sick. We don’t have a lot of control over it but we do know there are some features that are more common in people who develop certain cancers. These features are called ‘risk factors’.

Risk factors

It is not possible to say what causes cancer in a single person or whether a risk factor contributed to the development of the cancer in a person. And having one or more risk factors for cancer does not mean that someone will definitely develop cancer.

But there are some things we know about and do have control over. One of these is smoking, and another is drinking alcohol. Find out more about ways to help protect against cancer

Sometimes the genes we get from our family bloodlines can affect our chances of getting cancer. We might have gotten a gene from a parent before we were born that affects our chances of getting cancer. We can have genetic testing to try to find out, but sometimes we might never know.

You can't catch cancer

Our mob and culture have some similar ways of understanding sickness, and different views too. People might say cancer is a “white people’s disease” from changes in food and lifestyle that evolved through colonisation. Others might say it is from a spirit or clever people entering the body, black magic or being called by spirits. Some say it could be from missing something, or storing emotions in our body, or message from a spirit about something we need to change. Whatever we believe, other mob who have been through the same experience will probably have thought it too, and this helps remind us that we are not alone when fighting cancer.

Cancer does not spread from one person to another and you can’t catch it from someone who has it. Cancer does not happen as the result of something bad that you did.

It does help to yarn with other people who have been on a cancer journey. They’ll be able to yarn about how they started to come to terms with cancer. Many have had a journey with western medicine, as well as traditional healing and cultural practices that helped with their healing. All these might have helped them understand cancer and decide on what action to take.


The things we can do to prevent cancer and increase our chances of beating cancer are to eat healthy food, be a healthy weight, not smoke, limit alcohol, exercise and be sun smart. It’s always good to spend time with loved ones, participate in our cultural practices and being on Country to help us have a strong body, mind and spirit. Then we will be the best we can be, for whatever is up ahead.

Life with and after cancer


Where can I get help and support?