After consulting with a GP, you may be sent for tests as part of your next steps. This could include arranging to attend the hospital to see a specialist. These tests may include CT scans, MRI scans and ultrasounds, blood tests, biopsies or x-rays. You may also have other tests depending on your exact symptoms. They may happen on the same day but more likely will be spaced out. It should take a maximum of 2 weeks from the time you see a GP to the time you are first seen by a specialist. The GP will decide how urgent your case is, based on risk factors and the severity of your symptoms. At your tests, the healthcare team will explain in detail what will happen at each stage. You should ask for written information about the tests so you can take time to understand them outside of appointment times.
You will usually then be given a follow-up appointment to see a specialist after the tests have been completed, to discuss the results. There should be enough time in these appointments for doctors to explain properly and you should feel very free to ask any questions or for more clarity and information.
If you are diagnosed with cancer, you may be given another appointment to discuss the next steps and treatment options. Depending on how serious your diagnosis is, this appointment could be very quick or within the next couple of weeks. You shouldn’t have to wait more than 31 days from diagnosis to start your first treatment. In total, from your initial GP appointment, you shouldn’t have to wait more than 62 days to start your first treatment. In general, your referral to a specialist, tests and diagnosis should happen within this timeframe.
After a diagnosis, your doctor will find out more about your cancer. This may involve further tests to find out the stage and grading of your cancer. The stage describes the size of cancer, and if it has spread from where it initially started. This can take up to 2 weeks to complete. The grading of cancer tells doctors what the cancer cells look like compared to normal cells and gives them an indication of how quickly the cancer may grow.
When you are diagnosed, the doctor will tell you the stage and grade of your cancer. This may seem confusing at first and the doctor should explain to you what the stage and grade of your cancer mean to you. The following table outlines the staging and grading system so you can be prepared before your appointment.
Stage = size of the tumour and how far it has spread from where it originated.
Grade = appearance of cancerous cells.
|Number Staging System
|TNM Staging System
|Stage 0 – The cancer is where it started and has not spread.
Stage 1 – The cancer is small and has not spread anywhere else.
|T – describes the size of the tumour with numbers 1-4
1 = small
4 = large
|Grade 1 – Cancer cells resemble normal cells and aren’t growing rapidly.
|Stage 2 – The cancer has grown but has not spread.
|N – stands for lymph nodes with numbers 0 to 3.
0 = no cancer on lymph nodes
3 = many lymph nodes have cancer
|Grade 2 – Cancer cells don’t look like normal cells and are growing faster than normal cells.
|Stage 3 – The cancer is larger and may have spread to surrounding tissues and/or the lymph nodes (part of the immune system).
|M – stands for metastases or whether cancer has spread to another part of the body, with numbers 0 or 1.
0 = no spread
1 = cancer has spread
|Grade 3 – Cancer cells look abnormal and may grow or spread more aggressively.
After understanding the staging and grading of cancer, your doctor will be able to tell you your prognosis. This can include the likelihood of the cancer being cured, chances of a full recovery, and sometimes how long you are likely to live if the cancer cannot be cured.
This also depends on other factors such as: the type of cancer you have, where it is in the body, your age, general health, how treatment may affect you and how cancer responds to the treatment.
Your prognosis is estimated using statistics from research studies over many years. Therefore, it is important to note, that this is only an estimate, and every case is unique. You can also ask your cancer doctor how much you want to know about your prognosis. Some people may find they don’t want to know how long they have left to live and you are entitled to turn down this information.