Cancer and its causes

The more you know about cancer, the better placed you are to cope with it

Cancer will affect most of us during our lives, either directly or indirectly. By improving our understanding of cancer, we become better placed to make lifestyle choices and take precautions which can reduce our cancer risk.

Everyone should be aware of symptoms for early detection and, for those diagnosed, understanding common treatment methods, side effects and common questions to ask your doctor can make a huge impact on how you navigate through your cancer experience. Knowledge and understanding can decrease fear and empower you to make the best possible choices for your health and well-being.

Cancer can affect all aspects of your life and it is normal to have lots of questions. We have answered some of the most frequently asked questions for you below. Our social workers will also help you with any other questions you might encounter with your cancer diagnosis. Call our hotline on 3686 0800 to find out more.


I’ve just been diagnosed with cancer by a private doctor. What do I have to do if I want to receive treatment in a public hospital?

You should talk with your private doctor and ask them for a referral letter, which will state the department in the public hospital you will be transferred to. With this letter, you can then make an appointment with the outpatient division of the oncology department at the specified hospital. The oncology departments of public hospitals in Hong Kong only accept referrals by registered doctors – walk-ins are not accepted.


How long will I have to wait to get an appointment for treatment at a public hospital if I’m referred by a private doctor?

Public hospitals arrange outpatient appointments based on the urgency of each case. Those with cancer usually have high priority, however a waiting time of 2–4 weeks is common.


Where in the hospital can I learn more about coping with cancer?

You can get information and support from the cancer patient resource centres (CPRCs) in seven public hospitals across Hong Kong. Find out more about these centres here.



Can I ask for a second opinion?

Many people would like to get a second opinion before deciding on a treatment and doctors accept this. However, you should firstly ask yourself whether you’re trying to obtain a better picture of your situation, or trying to deny your cancer diagnosis. Be mindful that seeking numerous opinions could result in delayed treatment – so, talk frankly with your doctor about why you think a second or third opinion is necessary to avoid any misunderstandings or wasting time.


How can I access my medical records?

The Hong Kong government has launched an electronic health record system where an individual’s health-related data can be stored and retrieved by different healthcare providers across public and private healthcare sectors. Medical professionals across the board can access a patient’s medical profile and make timely decisions on treatment and care. To understand more about the system, please visit:


I want to try Chinese medical therapy. Is this available in Hong Kong’s hospitals?

Some hospitals in Hong Kong run independent Chinese medical clinics on site, but there are no combined Chinese and Western therapies available in any of Hong Kong’s public hospitals. Chinese medical therapy is used at a patient’s request. It’s important to discuss your condition openly with your oncologist before you undertake any complementary therapies.

There is an acupuncture centre at the Prince of Wales Hospital’s oncology unit, supported by Cancer Fund. Please call the Cancer Patient Acupuncture Centre on 2632-4026 for more information.


I’ve just completed my cancer treatment and I’m planning to use Chinese medicine to help with my recovery. How can I find out if a traditional Chinese practitioner is registered or not?

All registered traditional Chinese medicine practitioners are governed by the Chinese Medicine Ordinance. You can check if a practitioner is registered here. Practising without being registered with the government is illegal. Remember, it’s important to communicate openly with your medical doctor about all complementary therapies you are undertaking.


My wife is from mainland China and has been diagnosed with cancer. Can I bring her to Hong Kong for treatment?

As with Hong Kong residents, cancer patients from mainland China must be referred by a registered doctor before they can receive treatment from a public hospital. However, patients from mainland China without a valid Hong Kong ID card will need to pay the unsubsidised medical charges. Please refer to the Hospital Authority’s website for more information. There are also a number of private hospitals in Hong Kong that offer treatment to mainland citizens.


My father’s situation is deteriorating and my mother doesn’t know how to care for him properly. Can we apply for hospice care services at a public hospital?

Hospice care is offered to terminal cancer patients to support them physically and emotionally, with the aim of providing peace and comfort during a patient’s last days. Professional counselling services also serve to comfort families during their time of grief and pain. Patients and their families can discuss the possibility of receiving hospice care with medical staff and, where necessary, medical staff can also apply on behalf of their patients. Alternatively, you may wish to consider applying for home care support provided by the Cancer Fund’s CancerLink support centres, or joining one of our programmes that helps caregivers manage cancer patients at home. For further details, please call 3686 0800.


I’ve heard that the number of hospice spaces is very limited and there is a long waiting list. Is this true?

There are about 360 spaces for hospice care in 10 hospitals throughout Hong Kong. Each hospital has its own waiting list. If you wish to apply for the service, you should speak to your doctor.


I’m unable to work because of my cancer. How can I apply for financial assistance?

If you’re unable to work due to your cancer and are therefore facing financial difficulties, you can consider applying for the government’s Comprehensive Social Security Assistance. This assistance aims to provide a safety net to those who are not self-sufficient, so that they can manage their basic needs.

All applicants must have been Hong Kong residents for no less than 7 years and will need to go through an income and personal asset evaluation. The application is on a per-family basis, and the amount of the grant will depend on the size of the individual’s family.

If you wish to apply, you can visit your district’s social welfare office, or call the Social Welfare Department on 2343 2255. If you’re receiving treatment from a hospital, you can ask the medical social workers in the hospital to help. Cancer Fund also provides relief funds to support families with immediate financial needs. Please call us on 3686 0800 to find out more.


My doctor has recommended I pay for better chemotherapy medication, but I can’t afford to. Where can I find help?

Advances in research mean there are many new chemotherapy drugs with fewer side effects and better treatment results. However, these drugs are usually very expensive. Check what help is available with the medical social worker in your hospital and whether some of the drugs can be purchased with a subsidy.


We’re worried that my mother will become depressed about her terminal lung cancer, and as a family, we’re keeping some information from her. Are we doing the right thing? How much information should we share with our family member about their illness?

It is a person’s right to know about their situation. Studies overseas have shown that although patients do suffer from temporary depression when they learn of their diagnosis, it’s far better in the long run for them to have a clear understanding of their situation. Some people may choose to keep what they know about their condition to a minimum. In this instance, respect their wishes, and always be open and truthful if they have questions or wish to know more at a later date. Remember that it may take time for someone to take in and fully understand their situation, so be patient. You may also find it helpful to join one of our CancerLink support centre programmes that help to nurture and build family relationships, or to arrange a consultation with one of our social workers.


My father has colorectal cancer and my family thinks we shouldn’t talk about it. Is this the best way of dealing with things?

If family members cannot openly discuss the situation, effective communication and sharing will be severely affected, and they will have no channel to relieve their anxieties and worries. Communication helps anxieties to be relieved and also helps to foster mutual support between family members. Our CancerLink centres offer free workshops that help families navigate the cancer journey together. You’ll find the programmes available in our Link booklet, which can be downloaded here , or picked up from our CancerLink support centres.


What can we do as a family to support my mother, who’s just been diagnosed with breast cancer?

Family and friends can play an important role in providing support and comfort to someone diagnosed with cancer. Here are some of the ways in which you can help:

  1. Listen and understand: encourage your mother to talk about how she feels. Some people will go into shock when they learn they have cancer and they won’t know how to respond. This is not something to worry about, as it can take time for a person to accept their diagnosis. Relatives and friends can help by listening carefully to what (and how much) your mother wants to say. Don’t rush into talking about the illness. Often it’s enough just to listen and let her speak when she’s ready.
  2. Give hope and support: families and friends can express their feelings and determination to stand by an individual on their cancer journey. In addition, you can acknowledge your mother’s feelings by showing your support. Avoid giving false hope (such as “I heard that there’s this doctor who can cure any disease”, or “you’ll be fine”). You should also try to avoid denying the emotions of the person with cancer (by saying things like “don’t be sad”, “don’t worry”, or “don’t cry”).


I lost my father last month to cancer, and my mother is very depressed. How can I help her?

It’s normal to feel sad and lonely when a loved one dies. If your mother is depressed about your father’s death, be attentive to her needs and encourage her to communicate her emotions with you. Your support can be particularly important on days that mark special occasions or anniversaries. If you feel your mother would benefit from more help than you can offer, you may seek additional help by calling our CancerLink support centre on 3686 0800 for information on bereavement and joining  relevant programmes at our centres. Our social workers can also refer you to support from other community organisations such as The Jessie and Thomas Tam Centre (2725 7693) or The Comfort Care Concern Group (2361 6606).


My father lives alone, and his cancer is terminal. He has no one to take care of his daily needs. Where can I find help for him?

Some non-government organisations provide domestic support to elderly people who live on their own. This includes personal care, home cleaning, laundry and shopping assistance. The charges for these services depend on the individual’s financial status.
If financially viable, you could also consider hiring trained home carers to take care of your father at home. For more information, you can contact the following organisations.

Social Welfare Department  2343 2255
St. James’ Settlement 2574 5201
Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui Welfare Council  2521 3457
Evangelical Lutheran Church Social Service 2710 8313
Tung Wah Group of Hospitals

The Neighbourhood Advice-Action Council

2527 8888
2527 4567

Yan Oi Tong 2655 7688


Are there any patient transfer services between the home and hospital?

Some non-government organisations offer transfer services. The Easy-Access Transport Services organisation offers help to those aged over 60 old who have mobility issues. Users have to pay for the transportation and one carer can travel with the user for no additional cost. Call their hotline to find out more: 8106-6616. 

Cancer Fund’s CancerLink support centres can arrange for volunteers to accompany patients to and from hospital. While the user is responsible for the transportation costs, the volunteer’s services are free. For more information, call our CancerLink support centre on 3686 0800.


My body has become weak from chemotherapy. There is no lift in my building and I need to walk up six storeys. It makes me feel so exhausted. What can I do?

If you’re experiencing difficulty in your daily life due to health problems, you can apply for the Social Welfare Department’s Compassionate Rehousing scheme. A social worker will evaluate your family background, economic situation and the urgency of your housing problem. To be eligible, you must not own any property. Ask the medical social worker at your hospital for further details.


I’ve just lost my mother to cancer, but I don’t know how to go about arranging her funeral. Where can I find help with this?

You can contact The Jessie and Thomas Tam Centre (2725-7693) or the Comfort Care Concern Group (2361-6606) for help. You can also call the funeral hotline of the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals (2303-1234); their funeral home in Diamond Hill provides free funeral services to families with financial difficulties. Families of patients in public hospitals can also seek help from a medical social worker in the hospital or from a cancer patient resource centre (CPRC).


I need a wheelchair for my mother who has cancer. Where can I borrow one?

Cancer Fund’s CancerLink support centres in Wong Tai Sin and Tin Shui Wai provide wheelchair loans. Please call 3686-0800 for details. You can also contact Hong Kong Wheelchair Aid Service on 2194-9666.

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