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Talking to your doctor and preparing for appointments

If you’ve been told that you have a terminal illness, you might want to know more about your condition, what the future may hold and what support is available to you. 

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Speaking to a doctor can be daunting, but it’s important that they understand how you’re feeling so they can help you make the right decisions.

To make the most of your time with your doctor, it might be useful to prepare for your appointment. This will help you get the answers you want and can make you feel more in control.

Preparing for your appointment

  • Think about what you want to get out of your appointment.
  • Think about what questions and concerns you need to discuss to get the information you need.
  • Consider writing these down so you can easily refer to them.
  • Consider bringing along a relative or friend who could ask questions, take notes and help you remember and understand everything.
  • Consider bringing a device to record your discussion – many smartphones can do this. Ask your doctor if they’re ok with being recorded.

Questions you may want to ask include:

  • Can you explain more about my condition?
  • Who else can provide me with information?
  • What symptoms may affect me and how can I manage them?
  • What is likely to happen to me?
  • What are my treatment options?
  • Who can I talk to about my concerns?
  • What support services are available for me and my family?

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During your appointment

Try to tell your doctor everything they need to know about how you’re feeling physically and emotionally, even the things that might make you feel embarrassed or uncomfortable.

Ask questions about anything that is bothering you. If you don’t understand the answers, ask your doctor to explain again in simpler language. You could also ask them to draw a diagram or picture.

Remember you can take notes during your appointment and record it. Your doctor shouldn’t mind. You may also want to check that you’ll receive a copy of any letters that summarise the details of your discussion. If you want to do some more reading after your appointment, ask the doctor where to look for reliable information.

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Asking for a second opinion

A second opinion usually involves another doctor or team assessing you in person rather than just examining medical records. Don’t worry about asking for a second opinion  ̶  few doctors will be offended.

Before you decide whether you want a second opinion, you may want to think about some of the advantages and disadvantages.

Possible advantages

  • If both doctors agree about your diagnosis and treatment, this will help you feel more confident about their decision.
  • You may get on better with a different doctor and have more confidence in what they say.
  • You may be offered a treatment that hasn’t been suggested before, or a newer treatment that’s part of a clinical trial.
  • Your second doctor may offer a wider choice of treatments to treat your condition or symptoms. 

Possible disadvantages

  • Your treatment may be delayed by waiting to see another doctor.
  • You may find it upsetting to be told the same – or different – news about your diagnosis and treatment, if it’s not what you hoped for.
  • If you’re offered a different treatment, you may find it difficult to decide which treatment to have.
  • You might have to travel to see another doctor, which may not be easy and could lead to extra travel costs.

If you decide you would like a second opinion, you can ask your GP to refer you to another doctor. Alternatively, you may consider asking to see a different GP at your surgery – if you’re registered at a surgery with more than one GP. You could also change to a different surgery.

A family member or carer can also ask for a second opinion on your behalf, but only with your permission.

This page is for general information only. It's not intended to replace any advice from health or social care professionals. We suggest that you consult with a qualified professional about your individual circumstances. Read more about how our information is created and how it's used.

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