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Questions to Ask About Adult Brain and Spinal Cord Tumors

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It’s important for you to be able to have honest, open discussions with your cancer care team. Ask any question, no matter how small it might seem. Here are some you might want to ask, but be sure to add your own questions as you think of them.

When you're told you have a brain or spinal cord tumor

  • What kind of tumor do I have?
  • Is the tumor benign or malignant? What does this mean?
  • Where in the brain or spinal cord is the tumor? Has it grown into nearby areas?
  • Will I need any other tests before we can decide on treatment?
  • Will I need to see any other types of doctors?

When deciding on a treatment plan

  • How much experience do you have treating this type of tumor?
  • What are my treatment choices? What do you recommend? Why?
  • Should I get a second opinion? Can you recommend a doctor or treatment center?
  • How soon do we need to start treatment?
  • What’s the goal of treatment (cure, prolonging life, relieving symptoms, etc.)?
  • How likely is it that the tumor can be removed (or destroyed) completely?
  • Will treatment relieve any of the symptoms I now have?
  • What are the possible risks or side effects of treatment? What disabilities might I develop?
  • What should I do to be ready for treatment?
  • How long will treatment take? What will it be like? Where will it be given?
  • What is my expected prognosis (outlook)?
  • If I'm concerned about costs and insurance coverage for my diagnosis and treatment, who can help me?

During treatment

Once treatment begins, you’ll need to know what to expect and what to look for. Not all of these questions might apply to you, but getting answers to the ones that do may be helpful.

  • How will we know if the treatment is working (or has worked)?
  • Is there anything I can do to help manage side effects?
  • What symptoms or side effects should I tell you about right away?
  • How can I reach you or someone from your office on nights, holidays, or weekends?
  • Are there any limits on what I can do? 
  • Can you suggest a mental health professional I can see if I start to feel overwhelmed, depressed, or distressed?

After treatment

  • Are there any limits on what I can do?
  • What symptoms should I watch for?
  • What type of follow-up will I need after treatment?
  • How often will I need to have follow-up exams and tests?
  • How will we know if the tumor has come back? What should I watch for?
  • Where can I find more information and support?

Along with these sample questions, be sure to write down any others you want to ask. For instance, you might want information about recovery times so that you can plan your work or activity schedule. Or you might want to ask about clinical trials that might be right for you.

Keep in mind that doctors aren’t the only ones who can give you information. Other health care professionals, such as nurses and social workers, can answer some of your questions. To learn more about speaking with your health care team, see Talking With Your Doctor.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as editors and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Last Revised: May 5, 2020

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