Asking questions

Asking questions can make it easier to cope during diagnosis and treatment. Knowing what is happening and why not only makes you feel more involved in your care, it can make making decisions easier.

You probably have lots of questions. Some of which you may find difficult to ask, particularly when they are about very personal issues. But healthcare professionals are used to all kinds of questions and are happy to help.

It can help to be prepared by writing down a list of questions to ask. Don’t worry about asking all your questions at once. You will have other chances to ask them. It’s also okay to ask the same question again. The most important thing is that you understand what the doctor is telling you.

You will be given a key worker. This person will be your main point of contact to ask questions. You are also assigned a multidisciplinary team (MDT) responsible for your treatment and care. Members of your MDT will also answer any questions you have, or refer you to someone who can help.

Asking questions

You probably have lots of questions about treatment. But you may feel unsure about when to ask them.

You don’t have to ask all your questions at once. There will be other chances to speak to your healthcare team, so it’s 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. You may find it easier to email your questions to them, if this is an option.

Some people also find it helpful to have a separate notebook for all their questions, answers and information. You could order the Macmillan Organiser for free from our be.Macmillan site. This is a portable tool like a personal organiser. The Macmillan Organiser helps you keep track of things like symptoms, appointment times and notes about your medication.

You may find it helps to have a relative or friend there when you talk to healthcare professionals. They may also be able to make notes for you while you and the healthcare professional talk.

Difficult questions

You may feel embarrassed or afraid to ask some of your questions. These might be questions about the impact cancer and its treatment are having on your sex life, or about symptoms you’re experiencing that feel embarrassing.

It’s important to remember that any healthcare professionals you speak to will have already spoken to lots of people experiencing these issues. They are there to help, and it’s very likely they’ve helped other people in similar situations.

Tips for talking to your doctor

Find out how to get the most out of your appointments with a GP or doctor.

About our cancer information videos

Tips for talking to your doctor

Find out how to get the most out of your appointments with a GP or doctor.

About our cancer information videos

Who you could ask

Depending on the type of cancer you have and how it’s treated, you may be seen by some or all of these professionals:

  • a clinical nurse specialist - an expert nurse who specialises in a particular area of health, such as cancer, or in a specific cancer type
  • an oncologist - a doctor who specialises in cancer care and treatment
  • a surgeon - a doctor who specialises in your type of cancer and gives operations
  • a radiologist - a specialist in x-rays and scans
  • a therapy radiographer - an expert in planning and giving radiotherapy
  • a pathologist - a doctor who studies body tissues
  • palliative care doctors and nurses - specialists in easing or relieving the symptoms of cancer
  • a haematologist - a doctor who specialises in diagnosing and treating blood disorders, including some cancers.

You may also be seen by other healthcare professionals, such as a physiotherapist, dietitian, counsellor, psychologist or social worker.

There will also be others involved in your treatment and care, such as your GP (family doctor) and practice nurse.

Ideally, your treatment will be handled by a multidisciplinary team (MDT). This is a range of different professionals who work together to manage your treatment and care.

You can ask the questions in this section to any member of your healthcare team questions. If one member of the team can’t answer your question, they should be able to refer you to someone else who can help.

You should be told about having a key worker. This is often your clinical nurse specialist. Your key worker is the person you’re encouraged to speak to as your main point of contact. They’ll be able to either answer your questions or point you in the right direction for help or advice. Their name and contact details should be on the record of the first consultation when you’re told about having cancer.

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.

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.