Asking questions

You probably have lots of questions about your treatment. Understanding what is happening, and why, can make you feel more involved in your care. It can also make it easier to make decisions.

Your main point of contact at the hospital is your key worker. This is usually your clinical nurse specialist. A team of healthcare professionals, called a multidisciplinary team (MDT), is responsible for your treatment and care. Members of your MDT and your key worker can answer any questions you have. They can also refer you to other people who can help.

Difficult questions

Some questions may be difficult to ask, particularly when they are about very personal issues. For example, you might want to talk about the impact that cancer and its treatment are having on your sex life. Or you may want to ask about symptoms you are experiencing that feel embarrassing.

You may feel embarrassed or afraid to ask these questions. But healthcare professionals are used to all kinds of questions and are happy to help.

5 top tips for asking questions

You may have questions you wish to ask your healthcare team. Here are some tips to help you get the answers you need.

  • Plan your questions

    Appointments and other chances to speak with your healthcare team can be short. To make the best use of your time, it is good to be prepared.

    It may help to write down your questions before your appointment. Keep a notebook handy and write things as you think of them, or you can order a free Macmillan Organiser.

    You might find it useful to take a copy of this page with you to an appointment. You can download this page as a PDF to print or download.

    We also have a print booklet called Ask about your cancer treatment which you may find useful.

  • Keep notes

    You can make notes during appointments in a notebook or the Macmillan Organiser. This may help you to remember what is said. You can also get copies of any documents your cancer doctor or healthcare team send to your GP. This might include information about your test results or treatment.

    Some healthcare professionals may be happy for you to record consultations using a voice recorder or smartphone. You must ask their permission first.

  • Ask someone to come with you

    You may find it helpful to bring someone with you to appointments, such as a family member, friend or carer. They may also be able to make notes while you talk to the healthcare professional, and help you to remember what is said.

    You may prefer to bring someone with you for support who is not a family member or friend. These people are called advocates. Advocates are independent of social services and the NHS. They can help you:

    • understand and remember information
    • talk about your thoughts and feelings
    • make decisions about your treatment and care.

    You can find more information about patient advocate services on the NHS website.

  • Do not feel you have to ask everything at once

    You do not have to ask all your questions at once. There will be other chances to speak to your healthcare team. It is fine if you think of new questions or need to ask a question again. You can make another appointment, or speak to your healthcare team over the phone. Some healthcare professionals can also be contacted by email.

    Your key worker should give you their contact details so that you can talk over the phone or arrange a face-to-face meeting. You can use this to go over anything you do not understand or need repeating.

  • Remember that professionals are there to help

    You may have questions that feel difficult to ask. Remember that the healthcare professionals you speak to will be used to talking to people with all sorts of issues. They are there to help. It is very likely they will have helped other people in similar situations.

Who you can ask about your cancer treatment

If you have questions, you might talk to someone in your healthcare team, another professional, or someone who has been in the same situation.

  • Your healthcare team

    Your care will be managed by a multidisciplinary team (MDT). This is a group of different professionals who work together to manage your treatment and care.

    Your key worker is your main point of contact at the hospital. They can answer any questions you have, or refer you to other people who can help.

    If you have a question about a particular cancer medicine, you may be able to ask an oncology pharmacist in the pharmacy department at your hospital or treatment centre.

  • Financial specialists

    It is normal to worry about money when you or someone in your family has cancer. For example, you may have to pay to travel to hospital. Or you may have higher energy bills if you stay at home more often.

    You can call 0808 808 00 00 to speak to our experienced financial advisers. They can help with personal finance issues or claiming benefits. You could also speak to Citizens Advice in England, Scotland or Wales and Advice NI in Northern Ireland for telephone or face-to-face advice.

  • Social services

    You might have questions about getting support at home. For example, you may need help with tasks like shopping or cleaning. Or you may have care needs.

    Your GP or a member of your healthcare team may refer you to social services if they think you need help with some of these issues.

    If you have been referred to social services, you can ask them about any practical issues you have. They can also help with financial problems.

  • Other people affected by cancer

    If you have questions about your condition and treatment, you should ask your healthcare team. However, you may have questions you want to ask someone who is going through a similar experience to you. You could speak with other people affected by cancer:

Questions after diagnosis

Asking questions during and after your diagnosis can make it easier to understand what is happening and why.

Being told you need to have tests and meet a specialist can be a shock. It can often be some time before your appointment, so you might feel worried.

Your healthcare team will tell you how to prepare for your tests and what is involved. They will also explain any results to you.

But you might want to ask some extra questions. Someone should be available after your first appointment to discuss your diagnosis and how it may affect you. This is usually a clinical nurse specialist.

If you think of questions later, you may also find it helpful to speak to someone at your nearest Macmillan cancer information and support centre. You can also call our cancer support specialists free on 0808 808 00 00, 7 days a week, 8am to 8pm.

You may want to ask questions about:

  • being referred for tests for cancer
  • having tests and getting the results
  • getting more information about your cancer diagnosis
  • any practical issues, such as work and finances.

You are likely to have many different feelings during this time. If you need emotional support, help is available. Your GP, cancer doctor or specialist nurse will be able to help you find the support you need.

Here are some suggestions about the types of questions you could ask after your diagnosis.

  • About your diagnosis
    • Where did the cancer start?
    • What is a primary cancer?
    • What is a secondary cancer?
    • What is the stage of the cancer? This tells you how advanced it is.
    • What is the grade of the cancer? This gives an idea of how quickly it is growing.
    • What are the average survival rates for this type of cancer, and what might this mean in my case?
  • Getting more information
    • Who can I contact if I think of questions later? Can I talk to someone in person
    • Will someone tell my GP about the diagnosis? How quickly will this happen?
    • Can I ask for a second opinion about my diagnosis or the plan for my treatment
    • Who can I talk to about how I am feeling?
    • Who can I ask about practical issues?

We have more suggested questions about getting practical and financial support below.

Questions about treatment

You can ask your healthcare team any questions you have before, during and after your treatment.

When you are making decisions about treatments, it is very important that you understand all the information you are given. You can ask questions about anything you do not understand.

The type of questions you have are likely to change depending on what stage of treatment you are in.

You can continue to ask your healthcare team questions during your treatment. Your cancer doctor or specialist nurse will answer any questions you have. They should also offer you some written information about the treatment that you can take home.

We have information about different types of treatments and the different impacts of cancer.

Here are some questions you could ask about treatment.

  • Your treatment options
    • What treatment or treatments do you recommend for me?
    • What is the aim of my treatment?
    • Are there any other treatments that might work just as well?
    • What are the benefits and risks of each treatment option?
    • What might the side effects of each option be?
    • Would there be different treatment options if I were treated privately?
    • Is there a clinical trial I can take part in?
  • Choosing treatment
    • How can I choose between the treatments you have offered me?
    • Can I change my mind after I have started my treatment?
    • Can I get a second opinion?
    • Can you suggest a consultant who could offer a second opinion?
  • Choosing not to have treatment
    • Can I choose not to have any treatment?
    • If I choose not to have treatment, what is likely to happen?
    • If I choose not to have treatment now, could I have treatment later?
    • If I was able to have treatment later, would the aim of the treatment be the same?
  • Where to have your treatment
    • Can I choose where I am treated?
    • Can I be treated privately?
    • Will I have all my treatment at this hospital, or will I have to travel?
    • How long will I need to stay in hospital for?
    • Can I have my treatment at home, or closer to home?
    • Is there any help or support that I can have at home?
  • What treatment will involve
    • How soon will the treatment start?
    • How long will the treatment last?
    • How often will I have my treatment?
    • How long will I need to be in hospital for?
    • How long is my recovery likely to take?
  • How treatment might affect you
    • What does this treatment do?
    • Do I need to change my lifestyle while having this treatment?
    • Will I be able to drive?
    • Can I drink alcohol?
    • Do I need to change what I eat?
    • Can I exercise regularly?
    • Will the treatment affect my fertility or sex life?
    • Can I continue working while I am having treatment?
    • Do I need to avoid people who are pregnant or young children while I am having treatment?
  • How well treatment is working
    • How effective is my treatment likely to be?
    • How and when will I know if the treatment has worked?
    • How will the doctors know if the treatment is working?
    • Will I need to have any more tests?
    • If my treatment is delayed, will this make a difference?
  • Side effects
    • What are the possible side effects?
    • How long are side effects likely to continue for?
    • Will side effects eventually go away, or might some be permanent?
    • How will I be monitored for side effects during and after treatment?
    • What should I do if I have side effects?
    • What can be done to reduce side effects and how can they be controlled?
    • Are there any complementary therapies that might help?
    • If I am having lots of side effects, can I reduce or completely stop my treatment?
    • What would happen if I decided to stop my treatment at any point?
  • During treatment
    • Who will be looking after me while I have my treatment?
    • Will any religious or spiritual wishes I have be met?
    • Who should I contact if I have any problems?
    • How long should I wait before contacting someone?
    • Who should I contact in an emergency or out of hours?
    • When will I next talk to my oncologist or specialist nurse?
  • After treatment
    • What happens when treatment finishes?
    • How can I expect to feel after the treatment?
    • How long might it take until I feel back to normal?
    • What might the long-term effects of cancer and its treatment be?
    • Who do I contact if I have a problem between follow-up appointments?
    • How can I reduce the risk of the cancer coming back?

Questions about help and support

You should be given information about support groups in your area. You can also find out about local groups by calling us on 0808 808 00 00.

You can also share your experiences and discuss your feelings with other people in your situation on our Online Community.

Here are some questions that could help you get support during treatment, including any practical or financial help you need.

  • Help with money worries
    • Will there be any financial costs to me?
    • Where can I get financial support?
    • How do I get free prescriptions for my cancer treatment?
    • Can I get help with my energy bills?
    • Can I get help with travel or hospital parking costs?
  • Emotional support
    • How can I get help with how I am feeling?
    • Are there any support groups in my area?
    • Is there any psychological support or counselling available?
  • Work
    • Will I be able to continue working?
    • How much time will I need to take off work?
    • Where can I get support with work-related issues?
    • Who can I speak to about going back to work once treatment finishes?
  • Family
    • What help is available for my family?
    • Will I still be able to care for my children?
    • How do I tell my children?
    • Who can support my children?
  • Travel

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.