Cancer treatment

Just as there are lots of different types of cancers, there are different ways to treat them. Here's what you might need to know as a teen or young adult.

How is my treatment decided?

Your specialist and medical team will put together an individual treatment plan for you that takes into account the type of cancer you have, its stage (such as how big the tumour is or how far it has spread) and your general health. The three main ways to treat cancer are:

You might also have:

Your treatment plan (sometimes called a ‘protocol’, 'regimen' or 'regime') may include just one of these treatments, or a combination of them.

Where will I be treated?

Where you have treatment will depend on a number of things like your age, where you live, recommendations from your consultant and which hospital has the expertise to give you the best possible care.

Read more about places for treatment.

How will I deal with being in hospital?

The thought of suddenly having to share your space, spending time in a clinical environment and dealing with your 'normal life' being flipped on its head is understandably tough. It helps to know more about what to expect.

Read more about hospital life.

What should I expect from my NHS care?

You should receive high-quality care wherever this is provided, and no matter how old you are. It's important that you know what to expect from your care. 

Read our information about NHS services for teenagers and young adults.

Who do I go to with my questions?

Before your treatment plan is put into action, your doctor will discuss with you exactly what is going to happen and the benefits, risks and potential side effects of the treatments they are recommending.

Your doctor or nurse will also be happy to answer any questions you have and repeat the information as often as you need. It might help to write down your questions before each appointment, so you don’t forget anything you wanted to ask about.

Will treatment affect my fertility?

Some treatments can affect your ability to have children temporarily or permanently. Although having kids might be the last thing on your mind right now, make sure you talk to your doctor or nurse about this before you start treatment.

They should be able to give you an idea of how at risk you are or could refer you to a fertility clinic for specialist advice and treatment that could preserve your fertility and give you options for the future.

Read more about cancer treatment and fertility.

What if I'm already pregnant?

It's really important to tell your doctor 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.

I feel anxious about having treatment

The thought of treatment can feel scary and you might have specific fears about what might happen. Talk to your doctor or nurse. They will be able to answer your questions and dispel any worries you might have. Remember, the team of people doing your treatment are experts and will help you get through it. 

I have a phobia of needles

If you have a needle phobia then the thought of 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 treatment will have experience helping people with fears and will do what they can to make it easier.

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 your CLIC Sargent Young People’s Social Worker, if you have one, or a health play specialist at your hospital. They could give you advice and support. 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.  

How can I take responsibility for my own health while I'm on treatment?

When you are receiving treatment for cancer, it’s best not to take any other medications or start any complementary therapies without first speaking to your doctor.

You also need to let your care team know if you’ve been using any recreational drugs, such as marijuana. If you are taking steroids for bodybuilding, they need to know about this too. These drugs may affect your treatment or some blood test results, so it’s important to be honest with your hospital team.

Read more about looking after your health on or after treatment.

What are the side effects?

Everyone reacts differently to treatment so it's hard to say how it might make you feel. There will be plenty of support to help you through it though. 

Read more about the side effects of cancer treatment.

Updated March 2018, next review due 2021.