If you’ve recently been diagnosed with cancer, you probably have a million questions running through your head. You likely are alternating between feeling completely numb and completely overwhelmed.
As a Radiation Oncologist, I have helped thousands of patients through the first few weeks of their diagnosis.
As a patient, it is imperative that you become your own advocate, do your own research, and ask lots and lots of questions.
Whenever I meet a new patient for the first time, I always end the consultation by asking whether they have any questions. More often than not, they tell me that they don’t know enough to ask.
It for this reason that I have put together this list of the most important questions you should ask your doctor if you’ve been diagnosed with cancer. If you’d like a printable PDF of these questions to take with you to your next appointment, you can download one here.
1. What Type of Cancer Do I have?
It is important that you know what your cancer is called and what the type is. For instance, you may know you have lung cancer but you also need to know if you have small cell lung cancer, squamous cell carcinoma of the lung, adenocarcinoma of the lung, or large cell lung cancer.
2. How Do I Get a Copy of My Pathology Report?
Always ask for a copy of your pathology report so that you can reference the details of your diagnosis anytime you need it. Most doctors will gladly print you a copy of the report.
3. Where Did My Cancer Start and Where Has It Spread?
Understanding where your cancer started and where all it has spread is one of the first steps to understanding your prognosis and treatment options.
4. What Stage Is My Cancer?
This is another way to understand how far your cancer has spread and what your prognosis is.
5. What Are My Treatment Options?
Always ask your doctor to explain all of your treatment options. Sometimes doctors will only tell you about the treatments they offer. For instance, a surgeon may only tell you about your surgical options when you may also have options for treatment that do not involve surgery. Or a radiation oncologist may only discuss treatments with technologies that they have available.
6. What Are the Side Effects of Treatment?
Ask about both short-term and long-term side effects. Ask what the most common side effects are, what the doctor tends to see with most patients, and what the more serious, but rare risks may be.
7. What Treatment Does Your Doctor Recommend?
Your doctor may have insight into your particular situation that makes her think that one treatment might be better than another for you. Or they may tell you that it is completely up to you to choose which treatment you prefer.
8. What Is the Goal of Treatment?
Is the goal to cure the cancer? Make sure it doesn’t come back? Or is the goal just to slow down the cancer or alleviate pain and suffering?
9. What Is My Prognosis With and Without Treatment?
It is important for you to know what the benefit of treatment is so you can weigh it against the risks. Some recommended treatments have only minimal benefit, while others can be life-saving.
10. What Is Your Experience Treating This Type of Cancer?
Study after study proves that the more experience a doctor has with a particular type of treatment, the better outcomes her patients have. This is particularly true when you are considering a treatment that involves surgery.
11. Do I Need Further Testing Before Making Decisions About Treatment?
You may need further scans or blood work in order to know the full extent of your disease.
12. Do I Need Genetic Testing?
Some cancers are genetic and associated with a risk of other cancers. It is important for you to know if you fall into this category so that you can take appropriate precautions.
13. Should I Get a Second Opinion? How Do I Go About Requesting One?
I always encourage second opinions. This will help you ensure that you are getting the best treatment available for your particular situation. Do not be afraid to ask for one and do not feel like you will offend your physician. If a physician gets upset with you for asking for another opinion, you probably don’t want that person to be your doctor.
14. Should I Consider Taking Part In a Clinical Trial?
Clinical trials are an excellent way to ensure that you are getting top notch care while also helping shape the way cancer is treated in the future. These trials are typically only offered at academic cancer centers, but there are exceptions to this.
15. Are There Dietary or Lifestyle Changes I Can Make to Increase My Chances of Surviving My Cancer?
Don’t be surprised if your doctor tells you there is nothing you need to do. Many doctors aren’t properly trained in the role of nutrition and lifestyle in cancer treatment and prevention. If your doctor isn’t knowledgeable enough in this area, ask if there is a nutritionist they can refer you to. Or read the articles on this website here, here and here.
Knowledge is Power
A new diagnosis of cancer can be a scary time. However, you can make it less scary by educating yourself about your diagnosis and taking an active role in your care.
Let Me Know How I Can Help You
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