Preparing for your cancer test results

In the UK around 300,000 people are told they have cancer each year. If you're waiting for test results, there are ways you can help prepare yourself.  


Macmillan: 0808 808 0000

Tenovus: 0808 808 1010

Find out when you'll get your results. Jean Slocombe, Cancer Research UK's cancer information nurse, says: "It's always a good idea to ask when you can expect to get your test results and how you'll get them. If you don't hear anything for a few weeks, you may wonder if your results have got lost. Check up, as occasionally letters can go astray."

If you ever have any questions, ask. Most cancer charities have websites or helplines that can offer you advice and support. Macmillan runs a helpline on 0808 808 0000 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 8pm) and Cancer Research UK has information about cancer tests on their website.

You can also find information on the Marie Curie Cancer Care website.

Preparing for the consultation

Write down all the questions you might like to ask during your consultation. "It's very easy to forget what you wanted to ask because you may have to absorb a lot of information in a short time," says Jean.

That's what happened to Linda Hadley when she received her breast cancer diagnosis. "Everything just dashed through my mind and I couldn't think clearly," she says. "I'm glad I had my husband there to ask questions for me."

For suggestions on some questions you might want to ask, read about understanding your test results.

Another useful tip is to record your consultation on a dictaphone, but check with your GP or consultant first. Either way, you should be offered a record of the consultation.

'My sister came along. I'd thought of questions I wanted to ask in advance, but it can be daunting. It was good to have someone on hand as a support'


Neil Gooding, 43, diagnosed with mouth cancer

Bring someone with you when you get your results

It's a good idea to have someone with you when you get your results. Breast Cancer Care's Antonia Dean says: "When you're frightened and anxious it can help to have someone there to be another pair of ears and support you.

"Having said that, some people just want to do it by themselves. It depends how you feel."

Neil Gooding, 43, was diagnosed with mouth cancer in 2005 and was living alone at the time. "My sister came along," he says. "I'd thought of questions I wanted to ask in advance, but it can be daunting. It was good to have someone on hand as a support." 

If you don't want to ask someone you know to go with you, you may be able to ask someone from a local support group. Find cancer support services near you.

A cancer diagnosis

There's no right or wrong way to react to a cancer diagnosis. What matters most is that you have as much information as you need and feel comfortable with any decisions you make.

You might feel a range of emotions, including fear, anger or helplessness. Linda says she was in shock. "An absolute total numbness went through my body," she explains.

Nigel felt isolated. "I wanted to say to people around me on the street: 'Don't you realise...?' It felt strange that life just went on as normal."

Whether or not you confide in those close to you, it can often be helpful to get some support from someone who's not related to you. Many people and places are available to help.

Your nurse or specialist can give you information that's relevant to your situation and may be able to direct you to local support services, such as counselling and support groups, helplines and online forums. 

Find out about the choices available to you, such as whether there's a specialist nurse you can talk things through with, for example. Read more about coping with a cancer diagnosis.

What should you know?

  • When can you expect to start treatment and what side effects might you have? Find out more about side effects of chemotherapy and side effects of radiotherapy.
  • What is the treatment going to achieve? Is it likely to cure the cancer, or will it slow down the growth of the cancer and improve symptoms?
  • Is there someone at the hospital you can contact if you feel unwell before or after the treatment, or do you need to contact your GP?
  • There are often practical issues that need to be sorted out, such as financial matters. Ask if there's someone at the hospital who can advise you about things such as benefits. You can also use the Macmillan financial guide to find out more about applying for benefits.

Write down questions as they occur to you and take these with you when you see your doctor.

You can find cancer support organisations in the UK on the CancerHelp website.

Healthtalkonline has articles and videos of people talking about their experiences of having cancer.

Page last reviewed: 06/12/2013

Next review due: 06/12/2015


How helpful is this page?

Average rating

Based on 34 ratings

All ratings

Add your rating


The 4 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

tomas79s said on 21 October 2015

book: Destroying cancer (Tumors) with Ultrasound

Is there anyone who has read it, they told me that it is very useful ?!
I saw that this book: Destroying cancer (Tumors) with Ultrasound - is a book written for both doctors and patients and explains treatment with High Intensity Focused Ultrasound.
This technology can treat successfully Benign tumours (Uterine Fibroids, Uterine Adenomyosis, Breast Fibroadenoma) and Malignancies (Liver, Pancreas, Bone, Breast, Kidney, Soft Tissue, Metastatic cancers).
If anyone is familiar with this book please tell us?!

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

Mignet said on 14 January 2014

Why can't my results and diagnosis summary be posted to me. If I do not have cancer I save myself a time consuming trip and if I do have cancer I can digest the news and absorb the information. It will also give me time to consider all relevant questions in a calm and considered manner. Why do Health Professionals assume this is the most devastating news they can give? Most people journey through life with many life changing and life challenging situations. Any cancer result is just another event. It can be intimidating to be sat in a strange room with unknown health professionals telling you a load of information which you cannot readily digest and which leads to confusion. If patients choice was valued the NHS would ask the patient how they would like to learn of their results and not impose the process which seems to suit the NHS and NHS staff more than patients.

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

n McCarthy said on 24 May 2013

I do not agree it is a good idea to have someone with you for your results. I returned for my results on my own and found that I could take my time absorbing the news and coming to terms with my treatment options before deciding on when and where to share my news, and with whom. I also did not want to burden someone else with worry in case their was no cancer diagnosis.

Preparing for the consultation is helpful and prepares you to avoid the unintended patronising support that can sometimes be offered.

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

joan said on 09 April 2008

my name is joan i was told i had breat cancer september 2007. i have just gone threw 6.lots of cemo. for any one out there. do not worry you have to strong and follow every thing you are told. in my case i lost my hair.nails sickness. tierd. but with the help of my family . i am getting threw this.and the care of the all the staff in the cemo ward and the macmillon on surport . if you are on your own. well you are not for everyone person there is a 100. people to help.dont think its the end. i would just like to say a big thankyou to everybody in getting me this far. yours. joan. liverpool.

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

Services near you

Find addresses, phone numbers and websites for services near you

Cancer symptoms

Be aware of any unexplained changes to your body. Read about the typical signs and symptoms of cancer

Living with cancer

Information on living with cancer, including treatment, support and different personal experiences of cancer

Ask the doctor

Tips on how to make the most of your doctor's appointment, including a checklist of the most basic questions to ask

Predictive genetic tests for cancer risk genes

Does cancer run in your family? Read about getting tested for the altered BRCA1 and other cancer risk genes

Bowel cancer - having a colonoscopy

Bowel cancer is now the 4th most common form of cancer. TV presenter Lynn Faulds Wood survived advanced bowel cancer. In this video she undergoes a colonoscopy as part of a five-year check-up.

Media last reviewed: 01/05/2015

Next review due: 01/05/2017