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What Should You Ask Your Doctor About Oral Cavity and Oropharyngeal Cancers?

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It's important to have honest, open discussions with your cancer care team. They want to answer all your questions, so that you can make informed treatment and life decisions. 

Other health care professionals, such as nurses, dentists, nutritionists, and social workers, can also answer some of your questions. You can find out more in The Doctor-Patient Relationship.

Not all of these questions may apply to you, but asking the ones that do may be helpful. Here are some questions to get you started.

When you’re told you have oral cavity or oropharyngeal cancer

  • What kind of oral cavity or oropharyngeal cancer do I have?
  • Where is my cancer located?
  • Has my cancer spread beyond where it started?
  • What is the stage (extent) of my cancer and what does that mean?
  • Will I need other tests before we can decide on treatment?
  • Do I need to see other doctors or health professionals?
  • Has my cancer been tested for the human papillomavirus (HPV)?
  • If I’m concerned about the costs and insurance coverage for my diagnosis and treatment, who can help me?
  • Is there a clinical trial available you think I should know about?

When deciding on a treatment plan

  • How much experience do you have treating this type of cancer?
  • What are my treatment options? Which do you recommend and why?
  • What is the goal of the treatment?
  • Will this treatment affect the way I look? If so, what are my options for reconstruction?
  • Should I get a second opinion? How do I do that? Can you recommend someone?
  • What if I have transportation problems getting to and from treatment?
  • What are the chances I can be cured of this cancer with these treatment options?
  • How quickly do I need to decide on treatment?
  • What should I do to be ready for treatment?
  • Will I need a feeding tube before starting treatment?
  • How long will treatment last? What will it be like? Where will it be done?
  • Will treatment affect my daily activities?
  • Can I still work full time?
  • What risks and side effects can I expect from the treatments you suggest? How long are they likely to last?
  • What are my options if the treatment doesn’t work or if the cancer comes back (recurs)?

During treatment

  • How will I know if the treatment is working?
  • 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 on nights, holidays, or weekends?
  • Do I need to change what I eat during treatment?
  • Are there any limits on what I can do or what I can eat?
  • Can I exercise during treatment? If so, what kind should I do, and how often?
  • Can you suggest a mental health professional I can see if I start to feel overwhelmed, depressed, or distressed?
  • What if I need social support during treatment because my family lives far away?

    After treatment

    • Will I need a special diet after treatment?
    • Are there any limits on what I can do?
    • What symptoms should I watch for?
    • What kind of exercise should I do now?
    • What type of follow-up will I need after treatment?
    • How often will I need to have follow-up exams and imaging tests?
    • When should my next endoscopy be done?
    • Will I need any blood tests?
    • How will we know if the cancer has come back? What should I watch for?
    • What will my options be if the cancer comes back?
    • How can I reach you in an emergency?

    Along with these sample questions, be sure to write down some of your own. For instance, you might want more information about recovery times so you can plan your work or activity schedule.


    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: March 23, 2021

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