They are the words everyone dreads hearing from their doctor ... and the fact they are delivered over the phone can only compound the trauma.
Yet last night it emerged that many patients are being told they have cancer in a phone call rather than a face-to-face meeting.
It seems that the traditional practice of a doctor breaking the news in person is becoming a thing of the past.
Stephen Coupe, founder of Cancer Relief UK, said the development was outrageous. ‘It is a scandal that so many cancer patients are being given their diagnosis in this way,’ he added. ‘We have had many calls from families who are upset about this.’
Yesterday, staff at one NHS trust were officially rebuked for telling patients they had cancer over the phone.
Jim Morrison, chairman of Burton Hospitals in Staffordshire, told the trust’s directors he had been shocked such a warning was needed.
But on internet support forums, dozens of cancer patients said the same thing had happened to them.
One man said he had complained after his wife was given the news in this way.
'She was on her own in the house – no one else with her,’ he wrote on the Macmillan Cancer Support forum. ‘It just beggars belief – do they not do this in training to be a doctor, how to break bad news to patients?’
Dozens of patients then replied to his message, saying they had had the same experience. They said being given the news by phone was ‘pitiful’.
Incredibly, one man said his wife had been told to pass him the message that he had cancer by a doctor who called them at home.
Another woman spoke of the agony of being at home with her two-year-old daughter when she was told that she had an aggressive form of skin cancer.
'When she went off the phone, I just broke down in tears,’ she wrote. ‘I had to phone my dad to come and get my daughter.’ A second woman said being told of her cancer over the phone was the worst moment of her whole life.
'She added: ‘I spent four hours crying alone until my husband came home.’
Many said telling patients they had cancer over the phone was insensitive and should be banned. ‘It’s not like you are phoning to see if you’ve passed your GCSEs,’ one said.
'I wonder how someone who is mentally fragile, already depressed, vulnerable and alone would cope.’
One patient said he was shocked when a doctor told him over the phone that ‘it would be a miracle if he didn’t have cancer’. At this point, he said, they had not even received the results of his biopsy.
One woman said she ‘always knew this wouldn’t be an easy journey’ but said it had been made much more difficult by the fact that no one had spoken to her face to face.
A spokesman for Macmillan said a cancer diagnosis was the most devastating news that can be received from a doctor and that the news should always be given face to face to ensure the patient is properly supported.
Martin Ledwick, of Cancer Research UK, said: ‘You cannot guarantee the patient will have friends and family around them to help support them.’