Questions after diagnosis

Being told you need to see a specialist for tests can be a shock. It can often be some time before your appointment so it’s easy to feel worried.

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

But having some extra questions to ask, can make it easier to understand what will happen and why.

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.

It’s likely you’ll have many different feelings during this time. If you need emotional support, help is available. Your GP, cancer specialist or nurse will be able to help you to find the support you need. You can also call our cancer support specialists on 0808 808 00 00.

Questions you might like to ask

You might find it helpful to ask questions to your healthcare team throughout your diagnosis. We make suggestions about the types of questions you could ask.

Being referred for tests for cancer

Why are you referring me to a specialist?

Your GP should explain that they’re unsure what’s causing your symptoms, and that they’re referring you to a specialist for further tests. To help your GP decide which symptoms could be caused by cancer and need further investigation, they’ll use national cancer referral guidelines. GPs in England, Northern Ireland and Wales currently use a different guideline document to those in Scotland. The guidelines are very similar, but there are some differences in what they say. See the references section further on in this page for details.

When will I be seen? Are you referring me as urgent or non-urgent?

Depending on your situation, you will be referred to the hospital in one of three ways:

  • An immediate referral means you should be seen by a cancer specialist within a few hours.
  • An urgent referral means you should be seen within two weeks.
  • A non-urgent referral is treated as a routine hospital referral and may take longer.

When will I be tested?

Your hospital should organise your tests as quickly as possible. The people looking after you should explain where the tests will be done and how you can prepare for them.

What are the tests for and what will they involve?

You should be told:

  • why you’re having the tests
  • what they’ll involve
  • who will give you the tests
  • when you’ll get the results
  • who will give you the results.

The type(s) of tests or scans you have will depend on the type of cancer that’s suspected.

Having tests and getting the results

What times are available for me to have my tests?

You should be told that, as far as possible, your tests can be organised at a time that suits you. However, there will be lots of people having tests for different reasons, so it may not always be possible for the tests to happen at a convenient time.

Will the person doing the test look after me while it’s being done? Will they tell me what to expect?

Although tests can be uncomfortable, you should be supported by staff, and any discomfort should be kept to a minimum. You should be given information about the tests that’s easy to understand and explains everything you want to know. Let your cancer specialist or nurse know if you aren’t sure why a particular test is needed.

Who will give me the results and when?

The cancer specialist should tell you how long it will take before the results are available. You'll usually be given an appointment, and your cancer specialist will give you the results then. They should also tell you about any information and support available to help you while you wait for the results.

Will the specialist have all my test results? Will the appointment be for diagnosis or treatment?

Your test results should be passed quickly to your specialist. The first appointment after your results have come through is normally to give you the diagnosis and discuss what happens next.

Will my cancer specialist understand my concerns and give me time to ask questions? Will a specialist nurse be there to help me?

Your cancer specialist should be trained in communication skills. They should use clear language and give you enough time to ask questions.

You can also ask for a specialist nurse to be there to talk to you and help you, although there isn’t always a specialist nurse for every situation.

Is the doctor I will be seeing a recognised cancer specialist?

Your GP should refer you to the specialist who is most appropriate for your situation. This may be a surgeon, an oncologist or another type of specialist, such as a doctor specialising in blood conditions (haematologist). You can ask the specialist about their area of experience.

Can I bring someone with me to discuss my diagnosis and treatment?

Yes, you can bring someone with you when your diagnosis and treatment options are being discussed.

Immediately after your diagnosis, you could ask:

  • What does my diagnosis mean?
  • How advanced is my cancer?
  • What will happen to me?
  • What happens next?
  • What are my options for treatment?
  • How much choice will I have when it comes to my treatment?
  • What will my treatment involve?
  • How successful will the treatment be?
  • Will the treatment cure my cancer?
  • Who can I talk to about how I’m feeling ?

These questions may help you understand what your healthcare team says about your cancer:

  • What do you mean by the stage of a cancer?
  • What do you mean by the grade of a cancer?
  • What are the survival rates for my cancer type?
  • What is remission?

Some common questions about cancer and cancer treatment include:

  • What is a primary cancer?
  • What is a secondary cancer?
  • What is adjuvant treatment?
  • What is palliative treatment?

Getting more information

Who can I phone if I think of questions later? Can I see someone in person?

Someone (usually a nurse) should be available after your initial appointment to discuss your diagnosis and how it may affect you. You'll be told who to contact and you'll be able to contact this person by phone or arrange an appointment to meet them in person.

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 us.

Will someone tell my GP about the diagnosis and what’s planned? How quickly will this happen?

If you’re diagnosed with cancer, your GP should be told about this promptly by staff at the hospital where you’ve been seen.

Can I ask for a second opinion about my diagnosis or the plan for my treatment?

Your GP or cancer specialist should be willing to refer you to another specialist for a second opinion about your diagnosis or treatment if you feel it would be helpful. Getting a second opinion may delay the start of your treatment, so you and your doctor need to be confident that it would give you useful information.

Who can I talk to about how I’m feeling?

Your GP, cancer specialist or specialist nurse will be able to tell you about how to get any emotional support you need. You can call us, whether you have questions or just want to talk about how you feel.

Who can I ask about practical issues?

Healthcare professionals can answer any questions you have about practical issues. You could ask:

  • Will there be any financial costs to me?
  • How do I get free prescriptions for my cancer treatment?
  • Do I need more tests before treatment?
  • Do I have to have the treatment offered to me?
  • What will happen if I don’t have the treatment?
  • Can I get a second opinion?
  • Can you suggest a consultant for a second opinion?

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