Cancer diagnosis

Questions people ask about cancer

In order to ask valuable questions and get the information you need to understand the process you are going through, it helps to become a well-informed consumer. You have every right to ask questions, however sometimes health professionals are under enormous time pressure, so it’s ideal to prepare your questions before each appointment. It can also help to have a friend or family member with you at appointments to take notes and help you formulate questions based on the information you receive each appointment.

All health professionals are experts in their fields and that means they have a very specific language. It’s always fine to ask your questions in lay person’s terms, and ask them to explain any jargon or terms you don’t understand. One way to find common ground in language is to ask about evidence. Health professionals work in an ‘evidence-based’ model, which means they are making clinical decisions guided by years of experience coupled with the latest evidence from peer reviewed academic journals. You can keep them working optimally for you by asking about the evidence that informs their clinical decisions. Research shows that newer graduates are more up to date with current evidence, so ask your practitioners, no matter how authoritative they appear, to support their decisions using up to date evidence. If they aren’t able to do this, you are always free to seek another opinion. Your intuition and the therapeutic relationships are important, but that’s probably not the language most health professionals are speaking, so try to bridge the gap so your concerns and questions can be understood and addressed.

How to ask questions of your doctor

I have questions but I feel hesitant about asking them.

For a list of questions you might wish to ask about cancer see questions about cancer below. But before your appointment, here are some things you can do to help you get the answers you need.

  • Write down any questions or concerns you have in a notebook. Do this over several days so you have a full and complete list.
  • Write down information which could be needed, such as changes you have noticed (e.g new lumps, changes in appetite, mood, body); all medications you are currently taking; and every vitamin, mineral or natural supplement you are currently taking.
  • Bring your notebook with you to your appointment so you don’t forget any of your questions.
  • Record your doctor’s answers in the notebook so you can review them later.
  • Bring a trusted support person with you. This is also perfectly acceptable and this person may be able to take notes and even contribute to the discussion by asking questions you may not have thought of.

Every medical professional is also a human being, and even when they seem short on time, they are there to help you, so ask what you need to know. While there’s every reason to believe they are well trained and skillful in their roles, they can’t possibly understand your unique situation. Don’t expect one oncologist, haematologist, nurse or doctor to know everything, often they have very specialised knowledge. That’s why we encourage you to build up a wellness team, so that your medical needs can be met by the relevant professionals, and your social, emotional and spiritual needs may be fulfilled elsewhere.

Here is a list of questions people often ask their doctors about cancer.

Divider
You might like to use this to get your own list started.
  • What is the extent or stage of the cancer I have?
  • What is my prognosis?
  • What are my treatment options?
  • What treatment(s) do you recommend?
  • Why do you favour this treatment over others?
  • When will my treatment start, and how long will it last?
  • What care might I need during treatment?
  • Can I continue working?
  • How will treatment affect daily living?
  • Would a clinical trial be appropriate for me?
  • What will happen if I choose not to have the recommended treatment?
  • How long will I have to continue regular check-ups after treatment?
  • What are the associated financial costs, and will my insurance cover the recommended treatment?
  • How do you feel about me getting a second opinion? (Note, a good doctor won’t feel upset or threatened by this question!)
  • Can you help me find a doctor to give me another opinion on the best treatment plan for me?
  • What foods should I eat while I have cancer and am being treated?
  • Can you recommend complementary treatments to improve my chances of recovery and help me get through treatment?
  • What are the different ways to treat my type and stage of cancer?
  • What are the benefits and risks of these treatments?
  • What treatment do you recommend?
  • Why do you think it is best for me?
  • When will I need to start treatment?
  • Will I need to be in the hospital for treatment? If so, for how long?
  • What side effects will I experience?
  • Where will I go for treatment?
  • How is the treatment given?
  • How long will each treatment session take?
  • How many treatment sessions will I have?
  • Should a family member or friend come with me to my treatment sessions?
  • Will I need care while I am being treated?
  • What is the impact on my long-term health of this treatment?
  • What complementary treatments would you recommend?
  • What is my chance of recovery with this treatment?
  • How will we know if the treatment is working?
  • Would a clinical trial (research study) be right for me?
  • How do I find out about studies for my type and stage of cancer?
  • Will I need a specialist(s) for my cancer treatment?
  • Is surgery an option for me?  If so, what kind of surgery do you suggest?
  • If I have pain, how can it be controlled?
  • What are the possible side effects of the treatment?
  • What side effects may happen during or between my treatment sessions?
  • Are there any side effects that I should call you about right away?
  • Are there any lasting effects of the treatment?
  • Will this treatment affect my ability to have children?
  • How can I prevent or treat side effects?
  • Do I need to tell you about the medicines I am taking now?
  • Should I tell you about dietary supplements (such as vitamins, minerals, herbs, or fish oil) that I am taking?
  • Could any drugs or supplements change the way that cancer treatment works?
  • Are there any supplements I can take to improve my wellbeing during treatment, or my chances of recovery?
  • What is the purpose of radiation for my type of cancer?
  • Will it prevent or stop the spread of cancer?
  • Can I have radiation instead of surgery?
  • What are the statistics of radiotherapy for my type of cancer?
  • How will the radiation affect the surrounding areas?
  • What are the side-effects during and after radiation?
  • Will the side-effects change my appearance?
  • Will the side-effects affect my ability to function?
  • Will the side-effects change my appetite and ability to eat or drink?
  • Will the cancer come back even if I have radiation?
  • What is the time-frame for each treatment?
  • What is the cost of the treatment? 
  • What is the purpose of radiation for my type of cancer?
  • Will it prevent or stop the spread of cancer?
  • Can I have radiation instead of surgery?
  • What are the statistics of radiotherapy for my type of cancer?
  • How will the radiation affect the surrounding areas?
  • What are the side-effects during and after radiation?
  • Will the side-effects change my appearance?
  • Will the side-effects affect my ability to function?
  • Will the side-effects change my appetite and ability to eat or drink?
  • Will the cancer come back even if I have radiation?
  • What is the time-frame for each treatment?
  • What is the cost of the treatment?

Have another question to add to the list?

Submit your question to our wellness team