Cancer treatment can bring a fear of the unknown. Here are nine questions to ask your doctor to help you stay informed and confident during and after treatment.

Finding out you have cancer can bring up a range of emotions, from shock and sadness to a fear of the unknown.

Asking your oncologist questions is crucial for understanding your diagnosis and treatment options, providing a sense of control, and empowering you during and after treatment.

Here are nine important questions you might consider asking.

1. Can you explain my diagnosis in more detail?

Asking for a detailed explanation of your diagnosis is important because it helps you understand the specific type and stage of cancer you have.

This may include additional information, such as:

  • the specific subtype of cancer (e.g., ductal carcinoma, adenocarcinoma)
  • its grade (how abnormal the cancer cells look under a microscope, indicating how quickly the cancer may grow and spread)
  • the exact size and location of the tumor
  • whether the cancer has spread to lymph nodes or other parts of the body
  • other specific characteristics that help guide treatment decisions

2. What are the goals of my treatment?

Understanding the goals of your treatment helps you know if the main aim is to cure the cancer, control its growth, or manage symptoms. This knowledge guides your treatment decisions and helps you plan for the future.

For example, your doctor might say something like this:

“Our goal is to eliminate the cancer using surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. If the cancer is advanced and cannot be cured, our goal is to control it, prevent further spread, and manage symptoms to improve your quality of life.”

3. What are the potential risks and benefits of each treatment option?

Knowing the specific risks of each treatment option, like infection or tissue damage from surgery, helps you weigh them against the potential benefits, like tumor removal or elimination of cancer cells.

This helps ensure that you choose the treatment option that aligns best with your needs and goals.

4. How will this treatment affect my quality of life?

Asking how cancer treatment will affect your quality of life can help you prepare for changes, such as needing to plan meals in advance or managing travel and activity restrictions.

It’s always more beneficial for your oncologist to know what a typical day is like for you so they can give you better-suited information on restrictions and recommendations.

Cancer treatments may affect daily life, including:

  • Eating: Nausea, vomiting, and taste changes may reduce appetite.
  • Exercise: Fatigue and weakness can limit activity.
  • Work and school: Side effects and medical appointments can disrupt your schedule.
  • Travel: Fatigue, infection risk, and treatment needs can complicate travel.
  • Social activities: Fatigue and emotional distress can limit social engagement.

Discussing this information with your doctor allows you to plan ahead and make necessary accommodations.

5. Are there any clinical trials I may be eligible for?

Clinical trials can be useful when standard treatments have not worked, or if you have a rare cancer that has no standard treatments. By exploring clinical trials, you may find options that are more effective, have fewer side effects, or target your specific type of cancer more precisely.

Doctors learn about clinical trials through medical journals, conferences, research networks, and other institutions.

6. What support services are available to me during treatment?

Specific support services, such as counseling, nutrition support, pain management, and support groups, can help you cope with the physical, emotional, and practical challenges of cancer treatment.

Research shows that supportive care is crucial in modern cancer treatment. Supportive care offers better quality of life, improved tolerance to treatments, increased survival rates through better adherence, and economic benefits.

7. How will we know if the treatment is working?

Knowing the signs of treatment effectiveness allows you to monitor your progress and make informed decisions about continuing or modifying your treatment plan.

You can typically tell if a cancer treatment is working by looking for:

  • reduced tumor size on scans
  • lower levels of tumor markers in blood tests
  • improved symptoms
  • better overall health and energy levels

Discuss these signs with your doctor to understand what to look for with your specific cancer and treatment. If the treatment isn’t working as expected, your healthcare team may need to reevaluate and adjust your plan.

8. What are the long-term effects of my treatment, and how will they be managed?

Asking about the long-term effects of your treatment can help you prepare for any potential challenges that may arise.

Research shows that cancer treatments can lead to:

  • fatigue
  • nerve damage
  • cognitive issues
  • fertility challenges
  • heart problems
  • a risk of developing new cancers

You can manage some of these effects with lifestyle strategies, physical therapy, and medication.

Understanding and preparing for these potential long-term effects can help you take proactive steps to minimize them and maintain your quality of life throughout and after treatment.

9. What is the plan for follow-up care after treatment ends?

Asking about the plan for follow-up care after treatment is important for understanding how to manage your health in the future.

Your doctor might outline a schedule for follow-up appointments, tests, and screenings to monitor your health and detect any potential issues early.

They may also discuss lifestyle recommendations and ongoing support services to help you transition into life after treatment. This information provides reassurance and helps you maintain your overall well-being.

You can ask questions about your cancer treatment to:

  • Oncologists: These cancer specialists can provide information about your specific type of cancer, treatment options, and potential side effects.
  • Nurses: Oncology nurses can help with day-to-day care, managing side effects, and providing emotional support.
  • Primary care physicians: They coordinate your overall care, address general health concerns, and offer ongoing support.
  • Financial counselors: These specialists can help you understand treatment costs, insurance coverage, and financial assistance options.
  • Dietitians: They offer diet and nutrition guidance to maintain strength and manage treatment side effects.
  • Support groups: Connect with others who have similar experiences for information and emotional support.
  • Loved ones: Family and friends can provide emotional support, help track information, and accompany you to appointments.

When asking questions about your cancer treatment, it’s important to be prepared and proactive. Here are some tips:

  • Prepare your questions: Write down any questions or concerns you have before your appointment. This ensures you don’t forget anything.
  • Bring a notebook: Bring a notebook or use your phone to take notes during your appointment. This helps you remember the information discussed.
  • Bring a loved one: Having a trusted friend or family member with you can provide support and help you remember details from the appointment.
  • Be specific: Ask specific questions about your diagnosis, treatment options, side effects, and follow-up care.
  • Ask for clarification: If you don’t understand something, don’t hesitate to ask your doctor to explain it in simpler terms.
  • Be honest: Be honest with your healthcare team about your symptoms, concerns, and any alternative therapies you are considering.
  • Follow up: If you have questions after your appointment, don’t hesitate to contact your healthcare professional or their office for clarification.

Processing the answers to your cancer questions can be a challenging and emotional experience. Here are some tips to help you navigate this process:

  • Give yourself time: Allow yourself time to digest the information and emotions that may arise after your appointment. It’s OK to feel overwhelmed or confused.
  • Talk with a therapist: Working with a therapist can provide you with a safe space to process your thoughts and emotions.
  • Share with loved ones: Share your thoughts and feelings with a trusted friend or family member who can offer support and perspective.
  • Join a support group: Joining a support group can connect you with others who are going through similar experiences and provide a sense of community.
  • Review your notes: Read over the notes you took during your appointment to reinforce the information and help you remember important details.
  • Come up with additional questions: As you process the information, you may think of additional questions. Write them down and bring them to your next appointment.
  • Trust your instincts: Trust yourself to make the best decisions for your care. Your healthcare team is there to support you, but ultimately, the decision is yours.

Asking questions during your cancer treatment is crucial. It helps you understand your treatment plan, eases fear of the unknown, and empowers you to make decisions about your care.

Your healthcare team is there to support you. Staying engaged can help you manage side effects, anticipate changes, and maintain your quality of life.