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 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 goals, and your progress throughout treatment.

There will also be nurses and other health professionals with special training and skills who will be working with your doctor. The nurses are there to help you with your treatment or any side effects you may have. In many cases, they can answer your questions, too. Nurses can also help you get the answers you need from other members of your cancer 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 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.

These are examples of questions you may want to ask:

  • What kind of cancer do I have? Where is it?
  • Do I need any other tests before we decide on treatment?
  • How often do you treat this type of cancer?
  • What treatment do you suggest and why?
  • What’s the goal of treatment – to cure or to control my symptoms?
  • What are the possible risks or side effects of treatment?
  • Will I be able to have children after treatment?
  • What are the pros and cons of the treatment you recommend?
  • Are there other treatments I should 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, sex life, and leisure time?
  • What are the names of the drugs I’ll take? What are they for?
  • What other drugs or treatments will I need?
  • How will we know if 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 don’t feel sick, does that mean the treatment isn’t working?
  • What’s my outlook for the future (prognosis), as you see it?
  • What are the chances that the cancer may come back (recur) with the treatment plans we’ve discussed? What would we do if that happens?
  • What can I do to be ready for treatment?
  • Are there any special foods I should or shouldn’t eat?
  • Is it OK to drink alcohol during treatment?
  • How much will treatment cost? Will my insurance pay for it?
  • What’s the best time to call you if I have a question?
  • How do I reach you after hours or on weekends and holidays?
  • Should I think about taking part in a clinical trial?

Make sure that all of your concerns and questions, no matter how small, have been answered. It may take more than one visit to discuss all of your concerns, and new questions may come up. It can be hard to remember everything your doctor talks about. Some people find it helps 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.

You can also ask the doctor or nurse to write all of this down for you:

  • Your exact diagnosis and stage
  • The names of the drugs you’ll be taking and what each is for
  • A list of any problems you should call the doctor about right away
  • The names and contact numbers of specialists you’ll be seeing

This is information you’ll want to keep. Bring it to each visit and ask them to update the information as things change.

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 journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Last Medical Review: February 20, 2015 Last Revised: February 20, 2015

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