- After Diagnosis: A Guidefor Patients and Families
- What is cancer?
- Who gets cancer?
- Did I cause my cancer?
- Can cancer be inherited?
- Why me?
- Am I going to die?
- How do I cope?
- How do I talk to people about my diagnosis?
- Making treatment decisions
- How is treatment planned?
- What should I ask my doctor?
- Will I have pain?
- Will I be able to work during treatment?
- Will I be able to exercise during treatment?
- How will cancer affect my sex life?
- How will I pay for all this?
- What other resources do I have?
- To learn more
What should I ask my doctor?
Your relationship with your doctor is a key part of your care. You will likely have one doctor who coordinates all of your care. This doctor should be someone whom you feel comfortable with and someone who listens to your concerns and answers all of your questions. Your doctor will explain your diagnosis, your health condition, your treatment options, and your progress throughout treatment.
There will also be nurses with special training and skills who will be working with your doctor. These nurses are there to help you with your treatment or any side effects you may have. In many cases, the nurse can answer your questions. Nurses can also help you get the answers you need from other members of your health care team.
Like all good relationships, your relationship with your doctor is a 2-way street. It’s your job to ask questions, learn about your treatment, and become an active part of your cancer care team. Doctors may differ in how much information they give people with cancer and their families. And people who are newly diagnosed also may differ in the amount of information they need or want. If your doctor is giving you too much or too little information, let them know. Feel free to ask your doctor questions and let them know what you need.
The following are examples of questions you may want to ask:
- What type of cancer do I have? What is the stage or extent of my cancer?
- What is my outlook for the future (prognosis), as you see it?
- What treatment do you suggest and why?
- What is the goal of treatment – to cure or to control my symptoms?
- What are the possible risks or side effects of treatment?
- What are the pros and cons of the treatment you recommend?
- Are there other treatments for me to consider?
- How often will I need to come in for treatment or tests?
- How long will treatment last?
- What if I miss a treatment?
- What kind of changes will I need to make in my work, family life, and leisure time?
- What are the names of the drugs I will take? What are they for?
- What other drugs or treatments might I have?
- How will we know whether the treatment is working?
- Why do I need blood tests, and how often will I need them?
- If other specialists take part in my care, who will be in charge of my treatment plan?
- What symptoms or problems should I report right away?
- If I do not feel sick, does that mean the treatment is not working?
- What are the chances that the cancer may come back (recur) with the treatment plans we have discussed?
- What can I do to be ready for treatment?
- Will I still be able to have children after treatment?
- Are there any special foods I should or should not eat?
- Can I drink alcoholic beverages?
- How much will treatment cost? Will my insurance pay for it?
- What is the best time to call you if I have a question?
- Should I think about entering a clinical trial?
Make sure that all your concerns and questions, no matter how small, have been answered. It may take more than 1 visit to discuss all of your concerns, and new questions may come to mind. It might be hard to remember all your doctor talks about. Some people find it helpful to take notes, bring a family member or friend, record the conversations, and/or bring a list of questions and write down the doctor’s answers.
Remember that you have the right to a second opinion about your diagnosis and treatment. Asking for a second opinion does not mean that you don’t like or trust your doctor. Doctors understand you need to feel that all options for the best treatment are being explored. You can also ask whether your doctor has talked with other specialists at the treatment center.
Last Medical Review: 03/08/2012
Last Revised: 01/25/2013