Talking to healthcare professionals

During cancer and its treatment, you'll have many conversations with the teams caring for you. It helps you and the healthcare professionals work together so that you can have the best possible care.

The information on this page will help you take an active part in conversations with healthcare professionals.

What can make communication difficult?

Talking with members of your healthcare team is an important part of your care. However, time with doctors, nurses and other health care professionals can sometimes feel limited.

Many people with cancer find they are given lots of information around the time of diagnosis. At a stressful time, it can be difficult to remember it all. 

Healthcare professionals may use words that you are not familiar with, particularly around cancer care. It can feel like there is a whole new vocabulary to learn.

Helpful tips

The following tips will help you to get more out of your time with your GP or hospital staff.

Before your appointment

Check the time, date and place of the appointment and the names of the health care professionals you are due to see.

  • Let the hospital know if you have any disabilities that may cause you access issues or mean you need additional time.
  • You can also let them know if you would prefer to see a professional of a specific gender or may need an interpreter. 
  • Plan your questions before your appointment. It can help to write them down. 
  • Many people with cancer have said it’s not always easy to remember questions once you are at the appointment. You could also write to your doctor beforehand to let them know your questions and concerns.
  • Ask a relative or friend to come along to help you remember what to ask and what is said.
  • Take a notepad with you to take notes (or you could ask your friend/relative to take notes for you).

At the appointment

  • Your  healthcare team normally introduce themselves and explain their role in your care.
  • You'll meet many different healthcare professionals throughout your treatment. You may find it helpful to make a note of their names, titles and contact details, in case you have questions later.
  • Be open and honest - use your own words to explain what's going on for you.
  • Discuss with your team how much you want to know about your cancer, and any communication difficulties you may have.
  • Let them know if you give permission for information to be shared with other members of your family. 
  • Don't be afraid to ask the health care professional to repeat things or explain them more simply.
  • You can ask the doctor or nurse to draw a diagram or write a brief note of what has been said. Information backed up with pictures or diagrams is often easier to remember. 
  • You may be asked if medical students can sit in your appointment with you, as part of their learning. If you feel uncomfortable with that, it's ok to say no.
  • Ask who you should contact if you have questions following the appointment, including when they are available and how you should contact them.

After the appointment

Sometimes everything seems clear at the appointment, but when you get home it can seem confusing or you may think of other information or questions. 

If you have any questions you would like answered before your next hospital appointment, your GP, hospital doctor, or specialist nurse should be able to help. 

You can also drop into Maggie’s to talk things over with our professional teams and other centre visitors.

GP letters 

After a hospital appointment your hospital doctor will usually write a letter to your GP explaining what has happened at the appointment and any treatment that is planned. 

A copy of this letter may automatically be posted to you for your records . 

The letters can be a useful opportunity to make sure there is an accurate record of your care. However, sometimes they may be written with confusing medical language or abbreviations.  Occasionally, the information may be upsetting, or difficult to understand.

If you have questions you can talk with your GP or phone the hospital to help make things clearer.

Maggie's cancer support specialists can also go through the letter with you, to help clarify the information you've been given. It can help formulate any questions you may have.


By law everyone working in the NHS must keep your records confidential. Information will not usually be given to your family or carers without your agreement. 

You may be caring for someone with cancer. Healthcare professionals are not able to give information about that person without getting their permission. The person with cancer is usually asked if it is OK to discuss information with you.


Even if you manage well day-to-day, if English is not your first language then talking about medical matters can be a challenge. 

Friends/family can help but they may not translate things accurately for fear of upsetting or worrying you.

Sometimes they they may have difficulty understanding the medical  terms involved.

Let the hospital know in advance of the appointment and they should be able to arrange for an interpreter who is proficient in medical language.

What now?

Talk with others about what you are experiencing. It can help to hear that what you’re feeling is not unusual, and help you feel less alone. 

Call into your local Maggie’s to talk to our professional teams and connect with others in a similar position to yourself.

Last review: Mar 2022 | Next review: Mar 2023

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