Cervical Cancer

Talking to doctors

There is no easy way to tell someone that they have cancer. However, many people describe their cancer experience as life-changing and the way in which they are told can have a powerful impact on their state of mind, coping ability and future relationship with their medical team. 

Some women said they were glad they had been told their diagnosis in a straightforward manner. Others described the way their doctor had told them their diagnosis as blunt but in hindsight felt it was probably the best way to break the news. One woman wanted her doctor to be more direct with her. Many women were alone when they were told they had cancer.

People react in different ways when they are told they have cancer. One woman described how, because she didn't react as he had expected when he gave her the result that her cancer was advanced, the consultant seemed to feel he had to keep repeating it until she showed the expected reaction.

Communication between doctors and their patients can profoundly affect how patients cope with their illness. A woman who felt exceptionally well cared for describes the friendly and approachable manners of her medical team helped her to feel positive during her recovery in hospital. Another described feeling confident in her surgeon's judgment because he answered all her questions and gave her lots of information.

In contrast, one woman describes how she felt about the insensitivity shown to her by a doctor at the cancer clinic. Another said her consultants had made personal comments to her had led her to feel uncomfortable at future appointments.

Decision-making about treatment could be made easier or more difficult according to the manner of communication. One woman explains how the open communication between herself and her medical team had helped her to decide to have a trachelectomy (where the womb (uterus) is left in place so it’s still possible to have a baby).

Many women said it had made a considerable difference when doctors or nurses explained procedures during tests and treatments. In comparison, one woman had experienced unnecessary distress because she had not been told why she needed to sign a form during her radiotherapy planning session.

Communication between doctors and their patients can reduce or increase patient's concerns about ailments following treatment for cancer. Several women stressed that doctors should listen to and address these concerns and recognise that what may seem trivial to a doctor may create anxiety in the patient until it is fully explained.

Last reviewed July 2017.
Last updated April 2014.

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