Understanding a cancer diagnosis

Being diagnosed with cancer can feel overwhelming, and you may be receiving lots of information at a time when you find it hard to concentrate.

The information on this page will help you to find out more about being newly diagnosed with cancer and the types of questions to ask. 

You’ll also find out more about how Maggie’s can help and support you.

Your healthcare team

Your healthcare team understand that being told you have cancer is not easy to hear. 

Your specialist doctor should pace out the information, and take time to let you absorb the news. 

You’re likely to be introduced to a specialist nurse, who will be your key worker throughout your cancer treatment. 

They will be there to listen to questions, and help you understand what happens next.

They will often be your first point of contact throughout your treatment.

Being informed about your cancer can help

Knowing more about the cancer you have can help you understand your treatment options. It can also mean you feel more in control when talking with your healthcare team.

There is a lot of cancer information available and knowing where to find it and what applies to your situation can be confusing.

How to find the information that's right for you, at the time you need it:

  • Speak to a Cancer Support Specialist at your nearest Maggie's centre – they will talk things through and guide you to information that's right for you
  • Talk with your specialist nurse or GP
  • Take a look at the libraries in our centres – there are lots of helpful books and leaflets to read
  • Browse this website signposting you to trusted information from Maggie's and other organisations

Questions to ask

It can help to prepare a list of questions to ask before appointments or phone calls. It will help clear your thoughts, and make sure you have all the information you need. 

Ideally, take someone with you to appointments, so they can make notes while you listen and remind you of questions you may have forgotten.

Questions to think about include:

  • What type of cancer do I have?
    Ask this to clarify your diagnosis to better understand treatment options 
  • What grade and stage is it?
    You need to know because these terms are used to describe the behaviour of the cancer and if it has spread to other parts of the body
  • What is the aim of the treatment?
    Ask if the treatment is intended to cure the cancer, slow down growth or to improve your quality of life if it's a more advanced cancer
  • What treatment will I need?
    Ask about the types of treatment you’ll be offered, and what the treatments involve
  • What are the side effects? 
    These will be explained in more detail before each treatment begins. However, having a general idea of what to expect can help you plan
  • How long will treatment last?
    You may need to plan how long you'll be off work or study or have to plan childcare
  • Do I have treatment decisions to make?
    Sometimes there are a range of treatments you can have and you may be asked which you prefer
  • Do you have any written information for me?
    Your healthcare team should be able to give you printed information in an accessible form for you to take home
  • Does my cancer run in the family? 
    This can help reassure you about whether further tests are needed for your family. It might not be possible to answer this right away
  • What will happen next?
    Knowing this can help you feel that you have a plan
  • Who can I contact?
    Ask for the contact details of the person you have spoken with in case you have further questions after the appointment

Maggie's is here with you

As well as helping you to understand more about your diagnosis, we're here to help you cope with the other problems that cancer can bring.

There may also be practical issues, about managing financiallycaring for someone with cancereating well, and how treatment may affect you and those close to you.

Our Cancer Support Specialists, Benefits Advisors and Psychologists are here to listen to your concerns and find the help you need.

Last review: Oct 2021 | Next review: Oct 2022

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