Finding out you have cancer

When you are diagnosed with cancer, doctors will do some tests to find out as much as possible about the cancer.

This can mean spending a lot of time waiting for appointments and results. Sometimes you might feel that you are starting to lose touch with your normal life. If you are feeling well enough, try to carry on with things you enjoy, such as playing sport, going to the cinema or seeing friends.

Finding out why tests are being done and what they will involve can help you feel more prepared. Your healthcare team should explain any test you are having. But if you are unsure about anything, just ask.

Having tests and scans

If you are worried that a test may be uncomfortable, speak to your healthcare team. There might be things that can make it easier. They will usually offer this kind of help when they arrange the test. But sometimes they can be very busy, or may not realise how worried you are. Don’t be afraid to speak up, even if it feels awkward. The doctors and nurses will understand what you are going through, and will do everything they can to help.

When the test results come back, you can ask to see your scans or x-rays. If you think it would help, you could ask your doctor to draw you a picture or diagram so that you can get a better idea of what is happening in your body.

We have more information about all of the different types of tests and scans you might have.

Lots of people feel nervous about having a scan. Your healthcare team should tell you what the scan involves and what to expect. You may also find it helpful to look at the scanning machine before you have the scan. Just ask one of the nurses at the clinic or on the ward. If you think it would help, you could ask to meet someone who has had the scan recently. You may find that chatting about the experience helps reassure you.Having a scan may not be relaxing, but it is an important part of finding out what is wrong so you can get the treatment you need.

If you find it hard to relax, the doctors or nurses may be able to give you a pill or an injection to calm you down before you have the scan. You will still be awake, but won’t be as aware of what is happening. You are also unlikely to remember much about it afterwards.

Finding information online

The internet can be a great source of information. However, online information is not always reliable. Sometimes you might read inaccurate information, which is not helpful.

All of the information on the TYAC website has been written and checked by expert healthcare professionals, so you can be sure it is accurate and reliable.

CCLG has produced a booklet, Searching for information and support online, which gives helpful advice about using the internet to find information about cancer.

You may also find information on the internet that is factually correct, but not relevant to you and your situation. Each person has a different cancer experience, even if they have the same type of cancer.

If you are unsure about a website or the information you have read, ask a member of your healthcare team.

What to say to people

You may worry about what to say to people about your diagnosis. It can be difficult telling people what is happening, and you might be worried about how they will react.

It’s up to you how much you want to tell people and who you want to tell. You might decide to only tell your family and some close friends who you trust.

Think about how you let people know what is going on. You could talk face to face or on the phone. Or you may find it easier to send an email, letter or text. Social media can also be a great way of keeping in touch, but remember what you say will be seen by others, unless you send a private message.

Here are some tips:

  • Think about how much you want to share. For example, you could say you are waiting for tests and results, but that you are trying to get on with life as normal.
  • Introduce the subject gently. You could start with something like: ‘This is going to be difficult, but I need to tell you something’.
  • Try to give small amounts of information. The person you are telling may not be able to take everything in at one time.

School or university

If you are at school or university, it is a good idea for you or someone close to you (like a parent or an adult family member) to talk to staff about your situation. If you are worried about your health or not feeling well, it can be hard to concentrate or do well in coursework or exams. If your teachers know what is happening, they may be able to help. We have more information about cancer, school and university.


If you are working, you may feel unsure about what to tell your employer. It can help to be honest at this stage, especially if you need to take time off for hospital appointments. We have more information about cancer and work.

Macmillan Cancer Support produce a booklet called 'Work and cancer' which has more information about talking to your employer. This information is written for all age groups.

Whether you are in education or employment, you can always speak to your specialist nurse or social worker if you need help to explain your situation.

Your feelings

When your doctor tells you that you have cancer, you may find it hard to believe. It is common to feel shocked and numb. You may not be able to take in much information, and find that you keep asking the same questions again and again. The fear of what might happen next may sometimes be the only thing on your mind. You may feel very sad and upset.

You may know someone who has had cancer. If they did not get better, you might assume that getting cancer means you may die. But the number of people who are successfully treated and cured is increasing. Many cancers that affect young people respond well to treatment. This means that most young people with cancer will get better and have full and long lives.

You may find that your mood changes a lot. One minute you may be laughing with your friends, and the next you may burst into tears – this is completely normal. Or you may find your feelings hit you much later.

Finding out you have cancer is not easy, and it can be hard to fully understand what is happening. It can help to have someone you trust, such as a family member or close friend, with you when you go for your hospital appointments. They can provide support and be there to talk things through with you. They could also help by bringing a list of questions to ask and writing down the answers for you.

Talking about the cancer

After being diagnosed with cancer, you may find the idea of talking about it upsetting or uncomfortable. And putting your feelings into words may seem overwhelming. But talking about how you feel and what you need can help you feel supported. If talking feels too difficult, it may help to write down how you are feeling and then share this with someone you trust.

Sometimes it is hard to be open with the people closest to you. If it feels easier, you can talk to a doctor, nurse or any member of the team caring for you.

Counselling (support if you would like to talk about your feelings)

If you are struggling to cope or feeling low, then it might be a good idea to see a counsellor or psychologist. They are trained to help you understand your feelings so that you can cope better.

You can ask your GP or healthcare team to refer you to a counsellor. Some teenage and young adult (TYA) units will have a counsellor or psychologist as part of the team. Or there might be a counsellor at your school or university.

If you do see a counsellor, you can decide how much you would like to share with them. Anything you tell them will be confidential, so they won’t tell anybody else.

You may feel embarrassed about needing to talk to someone, but psychologists and counsellors are there to help. You may also find it helps to talk to somebody who is not directly involved in your situation. If you are angry with someone or frustrated, you can talk to the counsellor about it without upsetting anyone.

If you decide that the counsellor you are given is not the right person to help you, tell someone. It is important that you trust your counsellor and feel comfortable with them. You shouldn’t feel bad about asking to see someone else if it doesn’t feel right. The person who referred you to the counsellor may be able to arrange for you to see a different counsellor.

Hopes and fears

It might help you cope if you talk about what is frightening you, and things that you hope will happen. If you are finding it difficult to talk about these things, writing them down might help. You could write down your hopes and fears. Putting them down on paper might be easier than saying them out loud at first. Or it might just help you to work out how you feel.

Even if you don’t want to share it with other people, you may still find it useful to write down your hopes and fears.

You could also write down what you could do next to help with your fears. This could be talking to someone in your healthcare team, talking to someone you trust, joining a support group, or just asking for some extra help with day-to-day things.

Information on specific types of cancer

Find out more information about specific types of cancer that affect teenagers and young adults, including what treatment you might have.

Based on content originally produced by Macmillan Cancer Support.