Questions to Ask at Your First Oncologists Appointment

by GregP_WN

When you're diagnosed with cancer you may experience what some people describe as a "blacked out" type of sensation. You are looking at the doctor, he's explaining what you have, and maybe even going through the steps that are to come next, but you are not hearing it, or cannot remember what the doctor said. 

Questions For Doctor

This is why it's a good idea to have someone with you when you go to all office visits. Your partner can help remember, take notes, and ask questions that you have thought about beforehand, and if allowed, even record the session on your cell phone voice recorder.

Since this is a common problem with cancer patients, both newly diagnosed and those that have been in treatment for a while, we asked the WhatNext Community what questions they thought should be asked when at the doctor's office. These questions are from a wide variety of cancer diagnoses, so some of them won't apply to you. This is by no means a complete list of all questions that could be asked, but some that our members either asked or wished they had asked. And obviously, you won't ask every question on the list, just pick out those that concern you. 

Keep in mind that doctors aren’t the only ones who can give you information. Nurses, resident doctors, nurse practitioners, even some of the techs can provide some answers to certain questions. Browse through this list of questions and write down the ones that would pertain to you and your type of cancer. Not all of these will pertain to you. 

When you’re told you have cancer

Exactly what type of cancer do I have?
How big is the cancer?
Where exactly is it?
Has the cancer spread to my lymph nodes or other organs?
What’s the stage of your cancer? What are the different stages of cancer, which are more serious?
Will I need any other tests before we can decide on treatment?
Do I need to see any other doctors or health professionals?
What is the hormone receptor status of my cancer? What does this mean?
What is the HER2 status of my cancer? What does this mean?
How do these factors affect my treatment options and long-term outlook (prognosis)?
What are my chances of survival, based on my cancer as you see it? (Remember, survival statistics are just numbers)
Should I think about genetic testing? What are my testing options? Should I take a home-based genetic test? What would the pros and cons of testing be?
How do I get a copy of my pathology report?
If I’m concerned about the costs and insurance coverage for my diagnosis and treatment, who can help me?

Be Prepared Things To Bring To Chemo

When deciding on What Type of Treatments 

What are my treatment choices?
How much experience do you have in treating this type of cancer?
What treatment do you recommend and why?
Should I think about taking part in a clinical trial?
What would the goal of the treatment be?
How soon do I need to start treatment?
How long will treatment last? What will it be like? Where will it be done?
What should I do to get ready for treatment?
What risks or side effects are there to the treatments you suggest? Are there things I can do to reduce these side effects?
How will treatment affect my daily activities? Can I still work full time?
Will I lose my hair? If so, what can I do about it?
Will I go through menopause as a result of the treatment? Will I be able to have children after treatment? Would I be able to breastfeed?
What are the chances the cancer will come back (recur) after this treatment?
What would we do if the treatment doesn’t work or if the cancer comes back?
What if I have transportation problems getting to and from treatment?
Should I get a second opinion?

Should I Get A Second Opinion

If you need surgery

Is breast-conserving surgery (lumpectomy) an option for me? Why or why not?
What are the pros and cons of breast-conserving surgery versus mastectomy?
Will I be able to move my arms, legs, etc?
How many surgeries like mine have you done?
Will you have to take out lymph nodes? If so, would you advise a sentinel lymph node biopsy? Why or why not?
What side effects might lymph node removal cause?
How long will I be in the hospital?
Will I have stitches or staples at the surgery site? Will there be a drain (tube) coming out of the site?
Will I be able to eat after surgery (if surgery to neck/throat)
Will I need a feeding tube?
How do I care for the surgery site? Will I need someone to help me?
What will my breasts look and feel like after my treatment? Will I have a normal feeling in them?
What will the scar look like?
Is breast reconstruction surgery an option if I want it? What would it mean in my case?
Can I have reconstruction at the same time as the surgery to remove the cancer? What are the pros and cons of having it done right away or waiting until later?
What types of reconstruction might be options for me?
Should I speak with a plastic surgeon about reconstruction options?
Will I need a breast form (prosthesis), and if so, where can I get one?
Do I need to stop taking any medications or supplements before surgery?
When should I call your office if I’m having side effects?

During treatment

Once treatment begins, you’ll need to know what to expect and what to look for. Not all of these questions may apply to you, but asking the ones that do may be helpful.

How will we know if the treatment is working?
Is there anything I can do to help manage side effects?
What symptoms or side effects should I tell you about right away?
How can I reach you on nights, holidays, or weekends?
Will I need to change what I eat during treatment?
Are there any limits on what I can do?
Can I exercise during treatment? If so, what kind of exercise should I do, and how often?
Can you suggest a mental health professional I can see if I start to feel overwhelmed, depressed, or distressed?
Will I need special tests, such as imaging scans or blood tests? How often?
What do I need to bring to treatment?
Can I bring someone with me to keep me company?
What should I do in the event of an emergency like high fever, an accident, etc?
How long will each treatment take each time?
How long will the entire course of treatments take?
Will I get any scans done during treatments?
Can I still eat anything that I want?
Do I need to be concerned about being in public, work, school, or flying due to the immune system being compromised?

After treatment

Will I need a special diet after treatment?
Are there any limits on what I can do?
Am I at risk for lymphedema?
What can I do to reduce my risk for lymphedema?

Survivorship Care Plan Article

What should I do if I notice swelling in my arm?
What other symptoms should I watch for? What kind of exercise should I do now?
What type of follow-up will I need after treatment?
How often will I need to have follow-up exams, blood tests, or imaging tests?
How will we know if the cancer has come back? What should I watch for?
What will my options be if the cancer comes back?

If You Have Head and Neck Cancer

What type of head and neck cancer do you have, and where is it located?
What stage is my cancer? What does that mean in my case, how serious is this?
Will I have to have surgery?
How long will recovery take?
What are some of the side effects of this surgery?
What will be my plan of treatment?

Head And Neck Cancer Stat

Chemo, radiation, or both? How much?
What side effects of radiation will I expect?
What will you do to protect my teeth from radiation?
Should my teeth be pulled now, before treatments to prevent osteoradionecrosis?
What about damage to my esophagus from radiation?
Will I have carotid artery damage from radiation that could lead to a mini-stroke later?
How will you prevent it, or monitor it?
Will I have to have a feeding tube due to swelling in my throat after surgery or from radiation?
What other side effects do you normally see in head and neck cancer patients that I might expect?

Additional Questions For Other Types of Cancer

Will I have to have a colostomy bag after surgery? - Colon cancer
Will it be permanent?
Can I lead a normal life with it, if I have to have it?
Can I be outside in the sun?
How long should I expect to be off of work?
Will I be considered disabled?

This list is by no means all-inclusive. You should as whatever you need to know about your type of cancer, your circumstances, your lifestyle, and your ability to tolerate it. No question is a "silly or stupid" question. The doctor's job is not merely to diagnose and treat, but to also explain how he came to that conclusion, and how they plan to treat you. Do not be afraid to ask!

If you have already been through a diagnosis and treatments, what questions would you have asked in the beginning? Please post them in the comments below to add to this list. 

Click To Join Us At What Next (1)

Blog Home