Questions Patients Should Ask Their Doctor When Determing Cancer Treatment

Get all the information you can as early as possible

by Dr. C.H. Weaver M.D. updated 1/2019

Being educated and informed about your cancer diagnosis will help you make the best decisions about your cancer treatment. Get all the information you can as early as possible concerning your evaluation, treatment options, and their possible side effects.

Your doctor and nurse are your best sources of information, but you must remember to ask questions. There is no such thing as a dumb question. Don’t be afraid to ask anything that is on your mind.

To make the most of your opportunities to learn from your health care providers, read as much as you can and make a list of questions before each appointment - have someone take notes and consider tape recording the conversation so you dont miss anything that was communicated.

When deciding on treatment ask your doctor the following when determining your treatment.

  1. What is the goal of treatment? Is it to cure the cancer, prolong survival, reduce symptoms?
  2. How does the treatment compare to not receiving treatment or other potential treatments?
  3. What is the role of clinical trials? Can participation in a trial offer a better outcome than the recommended treatment?
  4. Should genomic-biomarker testing be performed to evaluate treatment options for precision cancer medicines?
  5. What are the side effects of treatment?

The following are some additional questions, grouped by topic, which you may wish to ask your nurse or physician:

Your Cancer

  • Do you typically treat patients with my diagnosis?
  • What stage is my cancer?
  • Is there anything unique about my cancer that makes my prognosis better or worse?
  • Should I get a second opinion?

Cancer Treatment

  • To cure my cancer or stop it from growing?
  • What are my treatment options?
  • How can each treatment option help me achieve my goal of therapy?
  • What risks or potential side effects are associated with each treatment?
  • What research studies (“clinical trials”) are available?
  • Are there any clinical trials that are right for me?
  • How long will I receive treatment, how often, and where?
  • How will it be given?
  • How will I know if the treatment is working?
  • How might a disruption in my chemotherapy dose or timing affect my results?
  • How and when will I be able to tell whether the treatment is working?
  • What are the names of all the drugs I will be taking?
  • Can I talk with another of your patients who has received this treatment?
  • Are there any resources or Web sites you recommend for more information?

Tests

  • What types of lab tests will I need?
  • Will I need x-rays and scans?
  • Can you explain the results of my complete blood count (CBC)?
  • Are there tests for the genetic make-up of my cancer?
  • Will I benefit from having my cancer evaluated for its genetic make-up?
  • How frequently will I get the tests?

Side Effects of Treatment

  • What possible side effects should I prepare for?
  • When might they start?
  • Will they get better or worse as my treatment goes along?
  • How can I prepare for them or lessen their impact?
  • Are there treatments that can help relieve the side effects? What are they? Do you usually recommend or prescribe them?
  • Which risks are most serious?
  • Will I require blood transfusions? Why?
  • How can I best monitor myself for complications related to either my disease or my treatment?

Protecting Against Infection

  • Will my type of chemotherapy put me at risk for a low white blood cell count and infection?
  • Can I help protect myself against infection right from the start of chemotherapy, instead of waiting until problems develop?
  • Am I at special risk for infection?
  • What are the signs of infection?
  • How serious is an infection?
  • How long will I be at risk for infection?
  • What should I do if I have a fever?
  • How are infections treated?

Daily Activities

  • How will my cancer treatment affect my usual activities?
  • Will I be able to work?
  • Will I need to stay in the hospital?
  • Will I need someone to help me at home?
  • Will I need help taking care of my kids?
  • Are there any activities I should avoid during my chemotherapy?

What to Expect After Treatment

  • What happens after I complete my treatment?
  • How can I best continue to monitor myself for complications related to either my disease or my treatment?
  • What kind of lab tests will I need?
  • How frequently should I get those lab tests?
  • What types of x-rays and scans will I need?
  • How often do I need to come in for checkups?
  • When will you know if I am cured?
  • What happens if my disease comes back?

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