Questions to Ask the Doctor
Studies show that people with cancer who are fully informed about their disease and treatment options usually tend to fare better and experience fewer side effects than those who simply follow doctors’ orders. Being informed gives you some control over your disease and encourages a positive outlook. Some people, however, tend to be overwhelmed by too much information or do not want to know as many details about their condition. It is important for you to identify how much information is right for you.
Getting answers to your questions
Your doctor should make time to answer your questions and explain various treatment options. Because you may feel overwhelmed by your cancer diagnosis, here are some tips to help you communicate with your doctor.
- Tell your doctor if you are having trouble understanding an explanation, description, or unfamiliar medical words. Sometimes, the doctor may be able to draw a picture or give an example.
- Consider writing your questions down in advance of a visit to reduce your level of stress and pressure for time.
- Bring a notebook or a tape recorder to the appointment. During the appointment, write down your doctor’s answers, or ask a family member to write them down for you. This way, you can read or listen to the information later.
- Be patient. It may take a few meetings with the doctor before you begin to understand each other.
- Ask your doctor where you can find printed material about your condition. Many doctors have this information readily available.
- The Internet can be very helpful to people who are seeking information about their type of cancer, or those who are making decisions about their treatment. However, it is important to consider the reputation of the organization posting information, as not all information on the Internet is accurate. Like cancer information found in books, magazines, or newspaper articles, information on the Internet should be used for informational purposes only. If you have questions about the information you find, please talk with your doctor.
- If you are interested in seeking a second opinion, let your doctor know. Most doctors fully understand the value of a second opinion and are not offended when patients seek one. They may even be able to suggest another doctor.
Suggested questions to ask the doctor.
An important part of managing your care is knowing what questions to ask of your doctor. Every person’s needs are unique, and your questions will change during the different phases of your disease.
Below are some examples of the types of questions you may want to ask your doctor.
- What causes this type of cancer?
- What are the risk factors for this disease?
- Is this type of cancer caused by genetic factors? Are other members of my family at risk?
- How many people are diagnosed with this type of cancer each year?
- What lifestyle changes (diet, exercise, rest) do you recommend I make to best manage my disease?
- What are some common symptoms of this type of cancer?
- How can I avoid symptoms and/or reduce their impact on my daily activities?
- Is there anything I can do to make my symptoms better?
- Are there activities I should avoid that may make the symptoms worse?
- If new symptoms arise or existing symptoms worsen, what do you recommend I do?
- What diagnostic tests or procedures are necessary? How often?
- What will these tests tell me about my cancer?
- How can I prepare myself for any tests or procedures?
- Is this test done in a doctor’s office, or do I need to go to the hospital?
- How much information concerning my diagnosis should I share, and at what time, with my friends and loved ones?
- If I seek a second opinion, will I have to repeat any tests or procedures?
- How is staging used to determine cancer treatment?
- What is the stage of my cancer? What does this mean?
- Is my disease expected to progress?
- What is my prognosis (chance of recovery)?
- What are the cure rates for my disease?
- What are the survival rates for my disease?
- Could my disease go into remission?
Treatment Keep in mind that all treatments offer risks and benefits. Discuss these with your doctor and consider your medical history and current condition in deciding whether the treatment approach is appropriate for you.
- What is the recommended treatment for my disease?
- Is this a standard treatment?
- Are there treatment options beyond the standard treatment for this disease?
- How often and how long will I have to undergo treatment?
- Are there any side effects of treatment?
- What are the benefits versus the risks of treatment?
- Has my cancer spread? If so, how does this affect treatment decisions?
- What are the expected results of treatment?
- How long does each treatment take?
- Is the treatment painful? What can you do to make it less painful?
- What will be involved in recovery? How long will I have to stay in the hospital?
- When can I resume my normal activities?
- What are clinical trials?
- How do clinical trials help people with cancer?
- Am I eligible for any clinical trials for this type of cancer?
- How will my progress be tracked while participating in a clinical trial?
- What happens if my disease progresses or is not treated effectively while participating in a clinical trial?
- How is treatment paid for if I participate in a clinical trial?
- Where can I get more information on clinical trials?
- Is there a social worker that I can talk to?
- Where can I find information on coping with my diagnosis?
- Where can I find emotional, psychological, and spiritual support?
- Where can I find financial support?
- How can I best minimize the psychological impact of this disease on my family and myself?
- Where can I find resources for children? For teenagers?
- Who should I call with questions or concerns during non-business hours?
- Where can I find more information about my cancer?
- May I contact you or the nurse to talk about additional information I find?
- Is there anything else I should be asking?
Some of these questions were developed in collaboration with CancerCare, a national cancer patient service organization. This is provided by the American Society of Clinical Oncologists (ASCO)