Getting a cancer diagnosis

Finding out that you have cancer can be a shock. You may have lots of questions. Or you may just need time to think about what you have been told. There is no right or wrong way to feel.

When you feel ready, the information below might help.

What happens after a cancer diagnosis?

After a cancer diagnosis, you meet a cancer doctor or specialist nurse to talk about your treatment plan.

How quickly this appointment is arranged may depend on the type of cancer. You usually get the details for this appointment by letter, phone or text message.

If you are worried that you have missed the appointment details, ask your GP or the doctor who arranged your cancer tests to check for you.

At your appointment, you can ask any questions. The cancer doctor or specialist nurse will give you information about your treatment options to help you make a decision about the treatment you want.

They should give you information in a language and format that you can use, and make sure that you understand.

The doctor or nurse will also explain when your treatment may start. They can talk to you about any support you need.

We have more information about:

Getting support after a cancer diagnosis

When you are told you have cancer, you may have many different emotions and worries. These can be difficult to cope with.

You may get support from your healthcare team. Your GP, cancer doctor or specialist nurse are often able to talk to you about what is happening and how you feel. They may be able to arrange more support or someone else for you to talk to. You can also check for cancer information and support in your area.

Talking to family or friends may also help. But sometimes it is hard to start a conversation about cancer. You may find it useful to read our information about talking about your cancer diagnosis.

Macmillan is also here to support you. You can:

Finding information about cancer diagnosis

You may have questions about the type of cancer you have been diagnosed with. When you meet your cancer doctor or specialist nurse, they will give you information and may be able to answer your questions

You may want to learn about the type of cancer before this appointment. You can use our Cancer A to Z to find more information about different types of cancer. This can help you understand what to expect. But you may find information that is scary or unexpected, and which causes worry.

You may also decide to wait for your appointment. This means the information you get is correct for your situation.

Booklets and resources

Now what? Podcast series

The cancer service at Guy's and St Thomas's hospital have worked with people with cancer to develop a free podcast to support people when they receive a cancer diagnosis.

The 10 episodes cover key stages that people will go through such as diagnosis or hospital admission. In each episode, people with cancer tell their stories and cancer health care professionals give practical advice and signpost to support.

What about work and money?

When you are affected by cancer, you might need help with extra costs. Or you might have questions about how diagnosis and treatment might affect your work life. We have more information about:

You can talk to our advisors about work and money by calling the Macmillan Support Line for free on 0808 808 0000. Opening times vary depending on the type of advice you need. Find out more about Macmillan’s .

Eating well and keeping active

You can help yourself get ready for treatment by eating a healthy diet and keeping active. Even small changes to the way you eat, or moving a little more, can help.

If you smoke, stopping is one of the best things you can do for your health. Giving up smoking may:

  • make some cancer treatments more effective
  • reduce your risk of side effects
  • help you recover faster after treatment.

We have more information about:

What is prehabilitation?

Your cancer team may give you information about prehabilitation (also called prehab) as you prepare to have treatment. Prehab means getting as ready for treatment as you can. To help you prepare, your team usually gives you advice and support about:

  • exercise
  • healthy diet and weight
  • mental health and wellbeing.

Prehab helps you cope physically and mentally with the cancer treatment. It may also improve your health and wellbeing after treatment.

Pregnant and diagnosed with cancer

If you are pregnant and have just been diagnosed with cancer, you may have additional questions and worries.

We have more information about pregnancy and cancer.

Supporting someone who has just been told they have cancer

When someone close to you is diagnosed with cancer it can be hard to know how to help them or even what to say. You might find it helpful to read our tips for talking to someone with cancer. Or our information about supporting someone with cancer.

It is often useful to talk to someone who is in a similar situation. Our Online Community has groups for carers, and for family and friends.

Do you want to receive trusted information by email?

We’ll send you regular emails to support you through diagnosis and beyond.

Sign up

About our information

  • This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been approved by members of Macmillan’s Centre of Clinical Expertise.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.

The language we use

We want everyone affected by cancer to feel our information is written for them.

We want our information to be as clear as possible. To do this, we try to:

  • use plain English
  • explain medical words
  • use short sentences
  • use illustrations to explain text
  • structure the information clearly
  • make sure important points are clear.

We use gender-inclusive language and talk to our readers as ‘you’ so that everyone feels included. Where clinically necessary we use the terms ‘men’ and ‘women’ or ‘male’ and ‘female’. For example, we do so when talking about parts of the body or mentioning statistics or research about who is affected.

You can read more about how we produce our information here.

Date reviewed

Reviewed: 01 July 2023
Next review: 01 July 2026
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum

Our cancer information meets the PIF TICK quality mark.

This means it is easy to use, up-to-date and based on the latest evidence. Learn more about how we produce our information.