Asking about your prognosis for advanced cancer

Your prognosis is information about how your disease is likely to progress, including average survival times for your type of cancer.

Not everyone wants to have this kind of information – some people prefer not to think about the future too much.

If you think you might like to find out your prognosis or if you are not sure, please read this page – it might help you to decide. You can also talk about prognosis to one of our cancer nurses in confidence by calling our Cancer Nurseline on 1800 200 700 or by visiting a Daffodil Centre.
 

Benefits of knowing your prognosis

It can reduce uncertainty
For some people not knowing what is likely to happen with their illness brings a lot of anxiety. Understanding the situation better can reduce anxiety for some people.

It can give you hope
If a prognosis is better than you expected, it can make you feel more hopeful about your illness and your future.

It can help you to plan and organise
Understanding how your illness might progress can help you to plan for the future. This can mean taking trips, visiting loved ones or doing certain activities while you are well. You might want to discuss how you will be cared for during your illness.  It can also mean taking time to put your affairs in order.  For more about putting your affairs in order, see our page, Planning ahead.

Disadvantages of knowing your prognosis

It makes things more real
Some people cope with cancer by not thinking about it or by trying to carry on as normally as possible. Some people even deny they have cancer. Finding out your prognosis can be a shock and it can be hard to face a difficult reality.

You may get more information than you wanted
If you are told more information than you expected or are told something you weren’t expecting that upsets you, it can make you feel more upset or anxious.

It can take away hope
If your prognosis is worse than you expected, it can make you feel very down, hopeless or scared. It can be hard to cope with these feelings, especially at a time when you may not be feeling very well.

If you decide you want information on your prognosis

  • Remember that everyone is different – statistics are based on ‘most people’s’ experiences – your experience may be quite different from the ‘average’ experience.
     
  • Think carefully how you will cope with the information before asking for your prognosis.
     
  • Try to find out about your prognosis from your doctor. He or she knows your individual circumstances and can also support you in understanding the information and answer any questions.
     
  • Avoid looking online. It can sometimes be hard to understand what the figures mean without an expert like a doctor to help. You may also find information that really doesn’t apply to your situation.
     
  • Accept that you will need some time to think about what you have been told if you ask for this information. You may forget some things you were told or there may be things you didn’t understand. You may need to talk to your doctor again after you have thought about everything. If you want any more information or advice you can also call the Irish Cancer Society Cancer Nurseline on 1800 200 700 or visit a Daffodil Centre to speak in confidence to a cancer nurse.
     
  • Get emotional support if you need it. If you feel upset or anxious about your prognosis you don’t need to deal with it on your own. It can help to talk to friends or family. If you prefer to talk to a professional, call our Cancer Nurseline on 1800 200 700 or email the nurses at cancernurseline@irishcancer.ie. They can give you support and also tell you about free counselling and other services that can help you.

 Next: Find information about planning ahead and getting your affairs in order.

Date Last Reviewed: 
Thursday, October 8, 2015
Date Last Revised: 
Monday, December 14, 2015