Diagnosis and tests for cancer

Tests play a big part in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. It can be stressful waiting for results, but the more information your team has, the better they’ll be able to help you. At first, the tests will help doctors figure out what type of cancer you have and where it is in your body.

Be heard and understood

You might not want to deal with medical stuff right now. It’s fine to leave it to your parents or partner if that’s what you want. But if you want to know what’s going on and play an active role in your treatment, it’s important that your questions and thoughts are listened to by professionals.

Some doctors are brilliant at communicating. Others, not so much. Remember:

  • Note questions down beforehand.
  • Write down the answers so you can refer to them later – or get someone to do it for you.
  • You always have the choice to talk to a professional in private, especially if you need to
    discuss medical history or lifestyle.
  • Don’t be afraid to say you don’t understand medical jargon – ask your doctor to explain what it means.
  • Make sure you know the next steps.
  • Lots of adults find it awkward discussing their bodies so openly but there is nothing that these professionals won’t have heard before.

If you think you’re pregnant 

It’s really important to tell your doctor and people doing your tests if you’re pregnant, or think you are. They’ll need to know so they can protect you and your baby, especially during scans and treatment. You can always ask to speak to them privately if you need. Just make sure you tell them.

The A-Z of tests you might have

Getting the results

One of the main reasons for having all these tests will be to find out how ‘advanced’ your cancer is. When it comes to the results, there are two main things to understand:

  • Staging: the stage describes how big the tumour is and how far it has spread from where it
  • Grading: this tells you how much your cancer cells have changed, compared to a normal cell. These are the basics but sometimes doctors will include more categories.

The result might be a jumble of numbers and Roman numerals that don’t mean much. So it’s important that your team explains simply and clearly what these results mean. If you don’t understand, do not – repeat – do not google it. There are so many variables that what means one thing for someone else won’t necessarily mean the same for you. Go back to your medical team to get the right information about what these results mean for you.

Whatever the outcome, of course you’re going to be worried. The bottom line is, knowledge is power and the more everyone knows about your illness, the better they’ll be able to treat you.

If you have a fear of needles 

If you have a needle phobia then the thought of tests and treatment might be very distressing. It’s common to dislike needles but a phobia is when you actively avoid them and experience physical symptoms such as anxiety, feeling faint, a dry mouth, trembling, an upset stomach, increased heart rate and shortness of breath. The best thing you can do is to talk to all the people involved in your care.

The people doing your tests will have experience helping people with fears and will do what they can to make it easier, like chatting to distract you, keeping medical equipment out of sight and or letting you lie down. Don’t worry – they’re not going to judge you. You could also play some music or a podcast, download a meditation or mindfulness app, practise slow breathing and calming techniques, or keep some sugary food or drink close by if you feel faint.

For many people, the more they do it, the less terrifying it becomes. Speak to one of the professionals looking after you or a health play specialist at your hospital. They could give you advice and support, or refer you on to the hospital’s psychology service if they have one. In the long term, you could ask your GP about accessing hypnotherapy, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or neural linguistic programming (NLP) – these are all thought to help with getting to the underlying cause of your fear and overcoming it. The most important thing to remember is that, no matter what, you will get through it and there’ll be plenty of people there to help.

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