Cancer may be considered a particularly challenging diagnosis for adolescents. Treatment for adolescents in the United Kingdom may be provided in paediatric or adult settings or, more rarely, in specialist adolescent cancer units. An ethnographic approach was adopted to gather 'insiders' views of one such unit using in-depth interviews with patients, parents and professionals, as well as non-participant observation of key events. Two data themes 'cancer and the cancer unit' and 'changes over time' are discussed in this paper. Benefits of the unit included shared understandings and the manner in which the privations of adolescent cancer were contained and managed by those involved.