Frequently Asked Questions

What is cancer?

Cancer is a broad term for conditions characterised by abnormal cells that grow and invade healthy cells in the body. Some cancer cells grow into a lump called a tumour; other cancers can affect the blood. Depending upon the type of cell that the tumour is derived from, a malignant tumour can be classified as a sarcoma or a carcinoma. Blood cancer is a term for cancers that affect the blood, bone marrow and lymphatic system. Sometimes cancer cells can spread to surrounding tissue or different parts of the body. More information

What are the warning signs of cancer in young people?

What are the warning signs of cancer in young people? The most common signs of cancer in young people aged 15–25 are:

1. pain

2. lump, bump or swelling

3. significant weight loss

4. fatigue and/or fever

5. changes in a mole

More information on the signs of cancer

What should I do if I am worried I have cancer?

If you have any symptoms that are worrying you, the first thing to do is visit your GP or the nurse at school. If you feel like you are not being taken seriously, book another appointment to see a different doctor and take someone along with you. Don’t feel embarrassed about speaking up – it may save your life. If your GP has any concerns they will refer you to hospital where a specialist will arrange some tests to be carried out.

What will happen if I am diagnosed with cancer?

If you are diagnosed with a condition, your specialist may refer you for more tests and they will decide on the best course of treatment for you. You may come into contact with many specialists during your time in hospital. All doctors and nurses involved in your care will follow a treatment plan which will be tailored for you. Read about what to expect when you have had a diagnosis of cancer

How is cancer treated?

Below are the main types of cancer treatment:


•Chemotherapy (where chemical substances are introduced to the body to kill cancer cells)

•Radiotherapy (a treatment involving the use of high-energy radiation)

•Brachytherapy (A type of internal radiotherapy)

•Bone Marrow Transplantation (replaces damaged bone marrow with healthy bone marrow stem cells) and Peripheral Blood Stem Cell Transplantation (a technique used to restore a person's blood cells after they have been damaged by chemotherapy or radiation)

•Targeted Therapies (which interfere with specific molecules that control cancer cell growth)

Other Treatment Methods

•Angiogenesis Inhibitors (removing the blood supply to tumours)

•Biological Therapies (treatments that affect cancer cells, e.g. stop or slow cancer cell growth)

•Cryosurgery (using extreme cold to treat tumours)

•Hyperthermia (treating tumours with heat)

•Lasers (using high-intensity light in to treat cancer cells)

•Photodynamic Therapy (PDT – uses a photosensitizing agent with a specific type of light to kill cancer cells)

More information on types of treatment

What are clinical trials?

Clinical trials are a type of research used to find out if new treatments and techniques are safer and more effective than the ones that already exist. They are essential for developing better treatments. New treatments and techniques are rigorously tested before becoming available to patients. Clinical trials will look into:

• New drugs

• New types of radiotherapy

• New surgical methods

• New ways to combine treatments

• New treatments like gene therapy

More information about clinical trials

Will my treatment be painful?

Unfortunately some types of tests and treatment can be painful but you’ll have an anesthetic or painkillers before any of these. Your doctors and nurses will help you deal with pain. There are lots of different ways to relieve pain and the most important thing is to mention it to your doctors and nurses, who will talk you through the options. Everyone involved in your treatment wants to make things as easy as possible for you.

What are the side effects of cancer treatment?

Side effects from medication and cancer treatment can vary from one person to another but there are common side effects that can affect young people going through treatment such as:

1. fatigue

2. sickness

3. loss of appetite

4. hair thinning or loss

5. diarrhoea and constipation

6. changes in your skin and nails

7. changes in your sex life and fertility

Information on the side effects of chemotherapy

Information on the side effects of radiotherapy


Will cancer affect my chances of having a family?

Will cancer affect my chances of having a family? Some cancer treatments can affect reproduction for men and women but you can take steps to preserve your fertility – there are options. Surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy can have an effect on reproductive organs and sex drive. Find out more about fertility issues that can affect young men and women

When is the right time to go back to school, college or work?

It’s quite normal to feel a bit mixed up about getting back into the swing of things whether you are thinking about going back to school, college or work. You may be keen to get back to friends and the life you had before cancer, or you may be anxious and feel uneasy at the thought of returning. Whether you choose to jump back in or ease yourself in gently, remember to take your time and work out what’s best for you – there’s no right or wrong way.

You may feel physically and emotionally tired when returning to education/work so don’t overdo things. You may want to speak with your doctor or clinical nurse specialist about getting back to school/work. Speaking with your friends, tutors or colleagues before returning will help them understand how you are feeling about being away during your illness and they can share any news with you that you may have missed.

If you feel like you are having difficulty making the transition back to education/work, speak to a counselor or join a support group to learn from the experiences of other young adult cancer survivors.

More information about returning to school

More information about returning to work

What are late effects from treatment?

Cancer treatments can affect people in many different ways with some people experiencing late effects. Late effects are:

• side effects that begin during or shortly after treatment and don’t go away within six months – these are sometimes called long-term effects, and occasionally these effects become permanent

• side effects that don’t affect you during treatment but begin months or even years later as a delayed response to treatment.

Some cancer therapies can damage healthy cells as well as cancerous ones and this can cause problems that take months or sometimes years to appear. The severity of late affects can vary and for some people they don’t affect day-to-day life too much. Other people can find the effects more difficult to live with. The main thing to remember is that there are lots that can be done to manage them. Let your doctor or nurse specialist know if you notice any symptoms that happen a while after your treatment has finished.

More information on late effects

I’m worried about cancer coming back

It is understandable that many young people will worry about cancer recurring after treatment – this fear is entirely normal. Fear and anxiety is usually most intense in the first year after treatment has ended but this anxiety usually reduces with time.

It helps to talk with someone about your feelings. Talking with a family member, friend or nurse specialist can help to reduce your anxieties and many people find help through support groups.

Managing stress can also help with reducing your level of anxiety. Ways to reduce stress:

• speaking with family or friends

• exercising regularly, walks, meditation

• hobbies, reading and other activities

• being well informed

• speaking with your doctor and nurse specialist about any worries you have

Supportive information