Understanding Chemotherapy: A Guide for Patients and Families

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A checklist of questions to ask your doctor or nurse

Before choosing chemo as a treatment option, you should understand the expected benefits, side effects, and risks. Consider asking your doctor or nurse these questions. It may help to write down questions to take with you to your next visit. Learn as much as you can about your treatment, and get an idea of the expected outcome.

  • What’s the goal of chemo for my cancer?
  • What are the chances that the chemo will work?
  • After chemo, will I be cured, in remission, or have fewer symptoms?
  • Are there other ways to get to the same goals?
  • How will I know if the chemo is working?
  • If this chemo doesn’t work, are there other treatments I can get?
  • What are the risks and side effects of the chemo I will be taking? How do these side effects compare with side effects of other treatments?
  • How will I get the chemo, how often, and for how long?
  • Where will I get chemo?
  • What can I do to get ready for treatment and decrease the chance of side effects?
  • Will I need to change my diet in any way? My activities? My work? Exercise? Sexual activities?
  • Will I also need surgery, radiation, or both? If so, when and why? What results can I expect?
  • If I have chemo after surgery or radiation, will it kill any remaining cancer cells? Could chemo be used alone?
  • Can I take part in a clinical trial?
  • How much will chemo cost? Will my health insurance cover it?
  • If the insurance company asks for a second opinion, or if I would like to get one, can you suggest someone for me to see?

Here are some tips to help you remember your doctor’s answers:

  • Take notes during your visits. Don’t feel shy about asking your doctor to slow down if you need more time to write. Ask questions if you don’t understand something.
  • If you can, record your visit so you won’t miss anything. But first ask your doctor if it’s OK to record your talks.
  • Consider taking a friend or relative with you to help you understand what your doctor says during the visit and refresh your memory afterward.

You might want to look at our booklet called After Diagnosis: A Guide for Patients and Families for more ideas about the things you and your family may want to know.


Last Medical Review: 03/07/2013
Last Revised: 03/07/2013