This small-scale study aimed to provide an insight into the time between first noticing a symptom, attending a healthcare provider and obtaining a cancer diagnosis. Previous research showed that the pre-diagnostic moments on the illness trajectory were important to people with cancer and could influence levels of satisfaction with subsequent care. This article provides an overview of the qualitative component (phase 2) of a three-pronged study that involved a workshop, a literature review and focus groups and interviews with people affected by cancer. Results highlighted some of the difficulties encountered during the complex journey towards a diagnosis of cancer. These included fear of what might be found, communication of symptoms to healthcare practitioners, the influence of family on decisions to attend a primary care practitioner and the importance of a person's gender on perceptions of health-seeking behaviour. Results presented warrant further investigation and suggest the importance of viewing the ‘cancer journey’ as including the journey leading up to a diagnosis of cancer.