Questions about treatment

When you’re making decisions about treatments, it’s very important that you understand everything you’re told. You can ask questions whenever you don’t understand anything.

The type of questions you have are likely to change depending on what stage of treatment you are in. Before treatment starts, you may want to ask about your treatment options, when treatment will start, who will oversee it and how long it will last.

When you’re deciding which type of treatment to have, it can help to ask about the best type of treatment for you and what may happen after you start treatment. You may also be interested in having further information about clinical trials as well as finding out how treatment will affect your normal life.

It can help to know what to expect during treatment. You may want to ask questions about any precautions you may need to take during treatment, any treatment side effects and who can help if you have problems with treatment.

Remember that you can continue to ask your healthcare team questions even after you have left hospital.

Before your treatment starts

What are my treatment options?

Your cancer specialist should tell you about all the treatment options available to you. They will discuss the benefits and disadvantages of the treatments and how they might affect you. Your cancer specialist may also discuss participating in clinical research trials for new treatments. You may find our section about making treatment decisions useful.

Will any religious or spiritual wishes I have be met?

Your healthcare team should be sensitive about any religious or spiritual beliefs you’ve shared with them. For example, this could mean providing you with information about complementary therapies that could improve your spiritual well-being, such as meditation.

When will the treatment start?

After diagnosis, your cancer specialist will usually want to do further tests and investigations to learn more about your cancer. This will help them plan the best treatment for you. They will be able to tell you how long these tests will take.

If you’re diagnosed with cancer and doctors decide you need treatment, then there should be a maximum wait of 31 days between this decision and the start of treatment. If your GP referred you to a specialist as an urgent referral, then the total time between this referral and the start of your treatment should not be longer than 62 days. These times come from national targets in place across the UK.

Maximum waiting times before starting treatment
Maximum waiting times before starting treatment

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Who will oversee my treatment?

Your treatment should ideally be discussed and planned by a group of specialists called a multidisciplinary team. This team will include all the healthcare staff involved in your care. It will include cancer nurses, your cancer specialist and other relevant specialists, such as a dietitian or physiotherapist. You should be put in contact with a nominated key worker, who will keep you in touch with the multidisciplinary team.

What will the treatment be like and how long will it take? Will there be side effects, and what can I do about them?

Your cancer specialist or nurse should describe the treatment and how it’s given. They will discuss the possible side effects of the treatment and what can be done to help relieve them. They’ll answer any questions you have. They may also give you some written information about the treatment that you can take home.

What are the treatment guidelines and standards for my treatment and care? Can I see them?

You can ask your key worker, or any member of the healthcare team, to show you the guidelines and standards.

What are my treatment options?

There are different types of treatment for cancer. The main ones are surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, hormonal therapy and targeted therapies.

You may be given a choice of treatment options, which your specialist will discuss with you. You will need to give permission (consent) for the hospital staff to give you the treatment.

If you don’t understand what you’ve been told, let the staff know so they can explain again.

Finding out what your options are can help you make the right decision about your treatment. Your doctor or nurse will be able to guide you, but asking these questions may help you choose the cancer treatment that’s best for you.

Your treatment

  • What treatment do you recommend for me?
  • What is the aim of my treatment?
  • Are there any other kinds of treatment 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?

Choosing treatment

You may be offered a choice of treatments, and asked to choose which you feel will be best for you.

  • How can I make a choice between the treatments you have offered me?
  • Can I change my mind after I’ve started my treatment?
  • Can I get a second opinion?
  • Can you suggest a consultant who could offer a second opinion?

Not having 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, could I have treatment at a later stage?
  • If I was able to have treatment later on, would the aim of the treatment be the same?

Where to have your treatment

  • Can I choose where I’m 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?

Taking part in a clinical trial

You may want to ask about taking part in clinical trials. These are medical research trials involving patients.

You don’t have to take part in any trial that is offered to you.

When you’re discussing clinical trials, you may also want to ask some of the questions about the standard treatment on pages 17–20.

  • Is there a clinical trial I can take part in?
  • What does taking part in a clinical trial mean?
  • What sort of trial am I being offered?
  • Why is the trial taking place?
  • How does taking part in a trial change my treatment options?

What will my treatment involve?

Once you have discussed treatment options with your healthcare team, questions like these could help you understand your chosen treatment.

Having treatment

  • How soon will the treatment start?
  • How long will the treatment last?

What treatment will involve

  • If I have chemotherapy, will I have tablets, injections and/or drips?
  • If I need to take tablets at home, how should I handle and store these medicines? What will happen if I forget to take a dose?
  • If I need radiotherapy, what will this involve?
  • How often will I have my treatment?
  • Can I have a family member or friend with me while I’m having the treatment?
  • If I need surgery, what will this involve?
  • How long will I need to be in hospital for?
  • How long is it likely to take for me to recover?

How treatment might affect you

  • What does this treatment do?
  • Do I need to change my lifestyle while having this treatment?
  • 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’m having treatment?

How well treatment is working

  • How effective is my treatment likely to be?
  • How 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 during 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’m 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?
  • Does my GP know about my diagnosis and treatment?
  • Who should I contact with 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 see my oncologist/specialist nurse?

Emotional support

  • How can I get help with how I’m feeling?
  • Are there any support groups in my area?
  • Is there any psychological support or counselling available?

After treatment

  • What happens when treatment finishes?
  • How can I expect to feel after the treatment?
  • What might the long-term effects of cancer and its treatment be?
  • How will I be checked to see if the cancer has come back?
  • Who do I contact if I have a problem in between follow up appointments?

Worries about cancer coming back

  • I’m worried about the cancer coming back. Who can I speak to?
  • How can I reduce the risk of the cancer coming back?
  • How can I stay healthy after treatment finishes?

Getting support

Who should I contact if I’m worried about my diagnosis, treatment or prognosis?

Good supportive care should be available throughout your treatment. The healthcare team looking after you should tell you how to get more help and information.

Are there patient support groups in my area?

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.

What help is available for my family and friends?

Your healthcare team should be able to tell you about support groups for your family and friends.

Being discharged from hospital and life after treatment

Will I need special equipment or support when I go home?

Your healthcare team should make detailed plans to meet your needs at home after you’ve been discharged from hospital. As you come to the end of your treatment, someone from the hospital should talk to you about how you’re feeling, any concerns you might want to discuss and issues you might face over the next few months. This is sometimes called a holistic needs assessment or an end-of-treatment assessment.

The healthcare professional may create a care plan with you, based on this discussion. The plan will show how you can get any care or support that might be helpful to you, and what you should do if you have any concerns about your health in the future.

For more information, see our leaflets What to do after cancer treatment ends: 10 top tips [PDF] available online, and Assessment and care planning for people with cancer which you can order from be.Mac.

At the end of treatment you may be offered a treatment summary. This is a letter from the hospital to your GP and you, which has details of the treatment you’ve had. It also includes information about any follow-up care you may need, such as outpatient appointments and tests to monitor your health. Your follow-up care will usually depend on the type of cancer and treatment you’ve had and your particular needs.

To find out more about getting a treatment summary, you should speak to your key worker, cancer specialist or specialist nurse.

The treatment summary will help when you see your GP, as they’ll know more about the treatment you’ve had and any other issues you’re facing. Your GP may ask you to arrange an appointment with them, to see how you are. This is sometimes called a cancer care review. If not, you may still want to make an appointment to see them.

To help you adjust to life after cancer treatment and keep as well as possible, you may be encouraged to become more involved in your own health. Your key worker should be able to give you details of services to help you, such as local health and well-being clinics, support groups, self-management courses and workshops. You can also call us.

Health and well-being clinics, holistic needs assessments and the treatment summary are all parts of something called a recovery package. This was developed by the National Cancer Survivorship Initiative (NCSI), which is a partnership between Macmillan and NHS England.

Who should I contact if I have questions or concerns once my treatment has finished?

Your hospital team should give you the contact details of who to get in touch with if you have any worries or concerns about your health or the possible side effects of treatment. This person can become your new main contact or key worker.

Does my GP know I’m being discharged?

Your GP should be told quickly when you’ve been discharged from hospital. Your GP will be sent copies of your treatment summary and care plan, so they should know about any important information or follow-up care you need.

How should I expect to feel after treatment?

People often expect to feel positive once treatment has finished, and for life to return to how it was before treatment began. But the reality can be different. People may experience a range of emotions when their treatment is over. This can come as a surprise to both the person having treatment and those around them. You may find our section about your feelings after cancer treatment helpful. Your GP should be able to put you in touch with support groups and services that can help.

After having cancer treatment, leading a healthy lifestyle can help speed up recovery and keep you well. It can also help you avoid any late consequences of cancer treatment. Leading a healthy lifestyle includes staying physically activity, eating a well-balanced diet, reducing the amount of alcohol you drink and giving up smoking.

Many people have concerns about how their work life might change both during and after they finish treatment. Our information about work and cancer may help.

Back to Asking questions

Questions after diagnosis

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