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Understanding the Psychological Impact of a Cancer Diagnosis

The diagnosis and treatment of cancer can have a significant impact on almost everyone who has had this experience.
Initial responses can include:

  • Shock
  • Emotional numbness
  • Anger and frustration ​
  • Sadness, grief and depression 
  • Anxiety and fear

These reactions are a normal part of adjusting to the diagnosis and usually settle down within 4-6 weeks of diagnosis.

When psychological symptoms persist over a longer period of time (2 weeks or more) an individual’s quality of life can be affected and they may feel overwhelmed and unable to cope. This is when it may be useful to see a clinical psychologist to assist coping and adjustment.

The Clinical Psychologist provides comprehensive psychological assessment and evidence-based therapies including Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. 

If you are experiencing any of the following it is helpful to see a Clinical Psychologist:

  • Difficulty adjusting to diagnosis and treatment such as feeling overwhelmed or struggling to cope
  • Have excessive and distressing worry about your cancer diagnosis
  • Are experiencing anxiety, fear and panic symp-toms or phobic symptoms (such as claustro-phobia, needle phobia or blood phobia)
  • Have persistent low mood and/or depression
  • Are having problems with sleep
  • Difficulties making decisions about treatment
  • Difficulty coping with treatment side effects
  • Difficultly communicating with your partner, family, friends or workplace about your cancer
  • Communicating with children about cancer
  • Difficulty coping with cancer as a couple
  • Body image and sexuality issues
  • Coping with infertility
  • Difficulties adjusting to life after treatment
  • Difficulties coping with genetic testing & results
  • Difficulties adjusting to metastatic or chronic cancer​

 Who can use the service?

​People who are being treated for cancer as a public patient within the Northern Sydney Local Health District are eligible to use this service.

The service is available for people having cancer treatment, those who are dealing with chronic or metastatic cancer and people who are up to 2 years post treatment for survivorship support.

Carers can be seen with a patient, but not individually. Support for psychological difficulties unrelated to the cancer experience are not appropriate for this service.

Other Counselling services are available through the Northern Sydney Cancer Centre for carers and those requiring bereavement counselling.

 How long is an appointment?

​An initial appointment can range from 1-1.5 hours whilst subsequent appointments are for 1 hour.

 Is there a cost?

​This is a free service that is part of your public hospital care.

 How to make an appointment?

​You can make an appointment directly with the the Clinical Psychologist by:

Referrals can also be made by your Healthcare Team or other people involved in your care with your consent.

 Access to other support services

​For assistance with accessing other support services including Carers or Bereavement Counselling, please contact the Cansupport service in the Northern Sydney Cancer Centre on 9463 1188. Cansupport is part of your treatment team and can provide information, support and referrals to other services.

Alternatively, you can visit your GP for access to counselling services.

Its important to understand that the Clinical Psychology Service is not a crisis service. If a person is experiencing severe symptoms of emotional distress such as suicidal thoughts or plans to harm themselves, high levels of agitation or disturbance please phone the Mental Health Access Line on 1800 011 511 or Emergency Services on 000 if there is an immediate risk of harm.


Northern Sydney Cancer Centre 
Level 1 
Royal North Shore Hospital 
Reserve Rd 
St Leonards NSW 2065 

Useful resources  

Clinical Psychologist: Phone 9463 1189, Fax 9463 1091or Email
NSCC Main Reception: 9463 1199​  
Royal North Shore Hospital: 9926 7111  
Cansupport and The Wig Library : 9463 1188  
Social Work Department: 9462 9477  
RNSH Cancer Council Liaison Officer: 0456 575 548 
Canteen: 1800 835 932  
Carer Gateway: 1800 422 737 
Cancer Council Helpline: 13 11 20  
Leukaemia Foundation: 1800 620 420  
Mummy's Wish: 1300 045 741
BCNA: 1800 500 258  
Lifeline: 13 11 14  
Mental Health Access Line: 1800 011 511