Preparing for your cancer test results

More than 300,000 people are told they have cancer each year in the UK. 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, senior cancer information nurse at Cancer Research UK, 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 its 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."

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 Carolyn Rogers 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. You might find it useful to make notes or record the consultation so you can listen at home. 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?

Write down questions as they occur to you and take these with you when you see your doctor. Here are some of the things you may want to ask:

  • What stage and grade is your cancer?
  • What sort of treatment do you need?
  • Do you have any treatment options and where can you find information about the different treatments? Sometimes there's a choice of treatments (such as radiotherapy and chemotherapy). You might want to ask whether there's a specialist nurse you can talk things through with.
  • 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?
  • Is there 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.

Cancer Research UK has more information on cancer support organisations in the UK. has articles and videos of people talking about their experiences of having cancer.

Page last reviewed: 06/12/2015

Next review due: 06/12/2017


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