Having tests and scans

When you are diagnosed with cancer, you will have tests and scans to find out more about the cancer. These might include an ultrasound, CT, or PET-CT scan. Having tests can mean going to hospital and waiting for appointments and results. While this can take a bit of time, it is important to get the information to make sure you get the best treatment.

The hospital staff should explain what happens for each test. If you are worried about what any tests involve, talk to your healthcare team. There maybe things that will help. For example, if you find it hard to relax, the doctors can give you some medicine to help you feel calmer.

You might want to search for more information about your diagnosis online. It is important to make sure the information you read is reliable. A reliable health information website should:

  • be regularly updated
  • tell you who wrote the information and where it is from
  • not try to sell you things
  • include contact details.

Having tests and scans

When you are diagnosed with cancer, doctors will do some tests to find out as much as possible about the cancer.

This can mean spending a lot of time waiting for appointments and results. Sometimes you might feel that you are starting to lose touch with your normal life. If you are feeling well enough, try to carry on with things you enjoy, such as playing sport, going to the cinema or seeing friends.

Finding out why tests are being done and what they will involve can help you feel more prepared. Your healthcare team should explain any test you are having. But if you are unsure about anything, just ask.

If you are worried that a test may be uncomfortable, speak to your healthcare team. There might be things that can make it easier. They will usually offer this kind of help when they arrange the test. But sometimes they can be very busy, or may not realise how worried you are. Don’t be afraid to speak up, even if it feels awkward. The doctors and nurses will understand what you are going through, and will do everything they can to help.

When the test results come back, you can ask to see your scans or x-rays. If you think it would help, you could ask your doctor to draw you a picture or diagram so that you can get a better idea of what is happening in your body.


There are different types of scans, including ultrasound, CT, MRI and PET-CT scans:

  • Ultrasound scan – this is when a small device like a microphone is gently moved over the area being scanned. The device produces sound waves to build up a picture of the inside of your body. The scan does not hurt.
  • CT, MRI and PET-CT scans – these usually involve lying still in a small space. There can often be a lot of humming and mechanical noise going on around you. These scans do not hurt.

Lots of people feel nervous about having a scan. Your healthcare team should tell you what the scan involves and what to expect. You may also find it helpful to look at the scanning machine before you have the scan. Just ask one of the nurses at the clinic or on the ward. If you think it would help, you could ask to meet someone who has had the scan recently. You may find that chatting about the experience helps reassure you.

Having a scan may not be relaxing, but it is an important part of finding out what is wrong so you can get the treatment you need.

If you find it hard to relax, the doctors or nurses may be able to give you a pill or an injection to help you feel calmer before you have the scan. You will still be awake, but won’t be as aware of what is happening. You are also unlikely to remember much about it afterwards.

Finding information online

The internet can be a great source of information. However, online information is not always reliable. Sometimes you might read inaccurate information, which is not helpful.

You can find reliable health information websites by looking for the Information Standard logo.

Information Standard logo
Information Standard logo

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If an organisation has this logo, it means that their information is high-quality, accurate and regularly updated.

Here are some things to think about when you are looking at a website:

  • Is the information regularly updated? You should be able to find the date when the information was last reviewed on each page.
  • Is the website trying to sell you something? A good health information website won’t do this.
  • Is it clear who has written the information? You should be able to find out who has written the information.
  • Are there references? A good website should list where the information has come from, or tell you who to contact to find out.
  • Are there any phrases that you might not trust, such as ‘miracle cure’? A good website will not use phrases like this.
  • Are there contact details? You should be able to find these easily on the website.

You may also find information on the internet that is factually correct, but not relevant to you and your situation. Each person has a different cancer experience, even if they have the same type of cancer.

If you are unsure about a website or the information you have read, ask a member of your healthcare team.