Deciding on Your Cancer Treatment: Questions to Ask Your Doctor

When people are first diagnosed with cancer, they have many questions. However, when actually sitting in the doctor’s office, it’s very easy to forget the questions you have about cancer diagnosis and its treatment.

Make the most of your appointment: Go in prepared. To make it a little easier, here’s a list of questions you can ask your doctor about your condition and cancer treatments.

  1. What kind of cancer do I have? What stage is it?
  2. How common is my cancer?
  3. What is my prognosis?
  4. What are my cancer treatment options?
  5. Are these cancer treatments proven or experimental?
  6. Are these cancer treatments covered by insurance?
  7. What should I expect from my cancer treatment? How long will it take? How successful is it usually? How will I feel?
  8. What side effects or complications could I face from my cancer treatment?
  9. In addition to treatment for cancer, will I also need to take other medicines? If so, what and for how long?
  10. Should I make any changes to my diet or lifestyle before starting cancer treatment?

You’ll also want to ask your cancer doctor about his or her qualifications. This is really an audition: Is this doctor the right person to treat you? Here are some questions to ask before you partner with a doctor in your cancer treatment.

  1. How much experience do you have in treating people with my type of cancer?
  2. How many people with my cancer have you treated in the past year?
  3. Are you board certified? If so, in what specialty or subspecialty?
  4. Do you have other relevant qualifications?
  5. Do you work closely with other specialists and health care providers who could be part of my cancer treatment team?
  6. What hospitals do you work with?
  7. Would I be eligible for a clinical trial? If so, are clinical trials available at this medical center? If not, are they available in this area?
  8. Can you recommend another doctor for a second opinion?

You may feel awkward about quizzing your doctor about his or her experience. But doctors expect these questions and even welcome them. Doctors want their patients to feel comfortable and confident in their care, not intimidated.

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Tips on Getting the Most From Your Appointments During Cancer Care

During your first few appointments with your cancer doctor, it’s going to be tough to keep track of all the details. You’ll be flooded with information: the names of doctors, medications, cancer treatments, and inevitably, a good dose of medical jargon. Here are some ways to make your appointments as useful as possible.

  • Take notes. Always go to your meetings with a pad and paper to write things down. You may also want to record your visit.
  • Bring a partner. Obviously, a friend or loved one can provide moral support during a tense conversation. But he or she can also play an important practical role. Your partner may remember details that you were simply too overwhelmed to take in. Or he or she may prompt you to ask important questions that you forgot.
  • Ask for information to bring home. At the end of your meeting, see if your doctor has any literature or other sources of information about your cancer or the cancer treatments he or she has recommended. Having something you can read over at home -- when you’re out of the stressful environment of the doctor’s office -- can be enormously helpful.
  • Get a phone number. It’s pretty much certain: once you get home, you’ll think of many questions you wanted to ask about your cancer treatment but didn’t. So always ask your doctor for his or her card. Find out how you can get in touch with your doctor -- or an oncology nurse in the office -- to ask further questions.
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on July 07, 2018

Sources

SOURCES:

Terri Ades, MS, APRN-BC, AOCN, director of cancer information, American Cancer Society, Atlanta.

Jan C. Buckner, MD, chair of medical oncology, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. 

Harold J. Burstein, MD, staff oncologist, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute; assistant professor of medicine, Harvard Medical School, Boston.

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