Questions to Ask the Oncologist About a Cancer Diagnosis

20 essential questions
cancerprognosis

Quick summary

A cancer diagnosis can be so shocking that it may be hard to know where to begin when talking to the doctor. It's common to feel completely tongue-tied, wondering if it's okay to even let the things you're thinking about cross your lips. For example, the first question on your mind may be "Is it curable?" Well, that's a perfectly reasonable thing to be wondering. The doctor may not be able to give you a definitive answer, but getting his opinion allows you to begin planning for the future and start a conversation about what's to come.

 

When accompanying someone to a doctor appointment, it's a good idea to bring a pen and paper to take notes, or ask the doctor's staff to provide writing materials. Many people find that no matter how hard they listen during appointments, the information becomes a blur as soon as they leave the office. (If you have a tape recorder, you might even want to bring it or another recording device, but ask the doctor if it's okay to use it before you turn it on.)

 

Start by quickly making a mental list of everything that's unclear. Don't worry if some of your questions seem obvious -- if you don't know the answer, that makes a question absolutely worth asking. And if the answer to one question brings another to mind, ask that as well. You'll find that at each appointment and stage of treatment, more questions will come up. But here are some to get you started.

 

  1. Can you be absolutely sure it's cancer? How did you make the diagnosis?
  2. What tests have you run, and what tests are available?
  3. Is this type of cancer rare or relatively common? How many cases have you seen?
  4. How advanced is the cancer? Has it spread to more than one area?
  5. Why are you recommending this particular treatment?
  6. Are there other treatment options available for this cancer, and what are the pros and cons of each?
  7. Is there any written material about the recommended treatment that we can take home to read?
  8. What are the goals of this treatment, and what is the success rate?
  9. How long will the treatment last?
  10. What are the risks of this treatment?
  11. What are the side effects of this treatment?
  12. Are there ways to manage the side effects?
  13. How do we know if a side effect is severe enough to warrant calling you?
  14. What do we need to do to prepare for this treatment?
  15. Is there anything that's important to avoid before or during treatment?
  16. Can you tell us what to expect during treatment -- where does it take place, how long does it last, and is it uncomfortable?
  17. How do patients typically feel after treatment, both immediately afterward and in the days that follow?
  18. Is it a good idea to make certain diet or lifestyle changes, and how can friends and family help with these?
  19. Are there any new treatment options or clinical trials we should be aware of?
  20. What's the best way for us to contact you when we have more questions about the treatment?
over 1 year ago, said...

I had a partial mastectomy and I just found out that I have hemoclips in the resection bed for postoperative irraditation therapy should they be removed or should they still be in there I am cancer free this was done in 06 I had a partial mastectomy and I just found out that I have hemoclips in the resection bed for postoperative irraditation therapy should they be removed or should they still be in there I am cancer free this was done in 06 Hide

over 1 year ago, said...

Have a pull down screen for specific type of cancer first in order to more define what types of questions to ask. Have a pull down screen for specific type of cancer first in order to more define what types of questions to ask. Hide

almost 2 years ago, said...

All good questions for the oncoligist. perfect for the first time with the new DR. All good questions for the oncoligist. perfect for the first time with the new DR. Hide

almost 3 years ago, said...

My brother was diagnosed with a Stage III Thymoma in early January. Was found by accident, as he was diagnosed a few months before with Myasthenia Gravis - a tumor of the Thymus gland (between the lungs and near the heart, just under the breastbone). Found out so much about Thymoma during this time. It is very rare, and very difficult to diagnose. He had chemo 1 time every 3 weeks for a total of 9 weeks, then a waiting period of 6 weeks to take a scan, then see what happened. My... Show more My brother was diagnosed with a Stage III Thymoma in early January. Was found by accident, as he was diagnosed a few months before with Myasthenia Gravis - a tumor of the Thymus gland (between the lungs and near the heart, just under the breastbone). Found out so much about Thymoma during this time. It is very rare, and very difficult to diagnose. He had chemo 1 time every 3 weeks for a total of 9 weeks, then a waiting period of 6 weeks to take a scan, then see what happened. My brother was very healthy before the MG and tumor was discovered, and had a very easy time with the chemo. We learned during this time, that the term 'cancer' does not mean malignancy, rather it describes whether the tumor is aggressive or not. My brother's biopsies were benign, yet the tumor was called cancer because it is a very aggressive one. 16 days ago was his surgery. The tumor had GROWN during the chemo, his pericardium had to be replaced (sac around the heart), part of his left lung was taken out, as the tumor had invaded there, and this also involved removing part of his phrenic nerve which feed the diaphragm (left side). The tumor was humungous, large and blood filled. I have learned so much about this type of cancer/tumor, and MG. Although I am not his caregiver - he has a wonderful wife for that - it's an honor to be a part of their support circle. Wish I could write about it - never sure where to start - would love to document my caregiving journey over the last 7 years, as it may help other to become better caregivers, or give the families of caregivers an idea of the commitment it takes to be a caregiver. Thank you for sharing this book about the cancer journey with us - every bit of information helps! Hide

over 3 years ago, said...

i have a quetion for an oncologist please. my mother in law says that every person has some type of cancer in their body. is this true ? i have a quetion for an oncologist please. my mother in law says that every person has some type of cancer in their body. is this true ? Hide

over 3 years ago, said...

pull down list of key points behind each question pull down list of key points behind each question Hide

over 3 years ago, said...

I am 48 male, had Ca Colon, Stage III (Poorly differentiated), underwent right Hemicolectomy & Chemotherapy (Modified Folfox-6), 12 cycles done. Post chemo, CT scans normal (first scan after 6 cycles & second scan after 12 cycles), no evidence of recurrance or wall thickness. Post sugery CEA level was 2.54, after 1 month of completion of chemo it is 8.74, after 10 days it is 6.4. can u please interpretate CEA result ? I will be Thankful to you. I am 48 male, had Ca Colon, Stage III (Poorly differentiated), underwent right Hemicolectomy & Chemotherapy (Modified Folfox-6), 12 cycles done. Post chemo, CT scans normal (first scan after 6 cycles & second scan after 12 cycles), no evidence of recurrance or wall thickness. Post sugery CEA level was 2.54, after 1 month of completion of chemo it is 8.74, after 10 days it is 6.4. can u please interpretate CEA result ? I will be Thankful to you. Hide

over 3 years ago, said...

I get chemo once a week for 3 weeks then off a week.. it seems I am always missing one either because of wbc's or platelets too low. Is this pretty normal with chemo? I get chemo once a week for 3 weeks then off a week.. it seems I am always missing one either because of wbc's or platelets too low. Is this pretty normal with chemo? Hide

over 3 years ago, said...

Awaiting diagnosis. Awaiting diagnosis. Hide

over 4 years ago, said...

Hello; I know that histological observation under a microscope is the most common method to determine if a sample of tissue/cell is indeed cancer and not a benign tumor (that is, giving the closest to a definitive diagnosis of cancer- as oppose to prognosis). Yet, I was wondering if there are also molecular methods that can tell the difference between benign or cancer (malignant). Maybe this depends on the cancer, or on a case-by-case basis... But I would like to know if there are other,... Show more Hello; I know that histological observation under a microscope is the most common method to determine if a sample of tissue/cell is indeed cancer and not a benign tumor (that is, giving the closest to a definitive diagnosis of cancer- as oppose to prognosis). Yet, I was wondering if there are also molecular methods that can tell the difference between benign or cancer (malignant). Maybe this depends on the cancer, or on a case-by-case basis... But I would like to know if there are other, more "molecular" approaches (or combination of these molecular approaches, to tell (diagnose) if a tumor is indeed malignant. Please, consider test done on cancer cell cultures also, as long as the approach is different than the traditional histology (morphology). (When I ask this questions, I think of , PCR, immunohistochemistry, Flow cytometry, DNA methylation patterns, cell cycle analysis with DNA staining, PET scan, etc. these are just examples) Hide

over 4 years ago, said...

Sir- Iam interested to fill an appal;ition to work in your grat instition- I believe tha my sklls and backgro. I have a back ground in 4year instition in Education and graduated in Registered Nurse-Please let me know if I should asend my reasume to be considered. Thankx-for taking the time to read and consider. Terry Wood Sir- Iam interested to fill an appal;ition to work in your grat instition- I believe tha my sklls and backgro. I have a back ground in 4year instition in Education and graduated in Registered Nurse-Please let me know if I should asend my reasume to be considered. Thankx-for taking the time to read and consider. Terry Wood Hide

over 4 years ago, said...

Should one ask: "If we use this treatment, what are the survival rates for this treatment, with -- "my" - age,my health history and my current condition? Should one ask: "If we use this treatment, what are the survival rates for this treatment, with -- "my" - age,my health history and my current condition? Hide

almost 5 years ago, said...

was diagnosed with nonhodgkins lymphoma a year ago.. fortunate that it was isolated to my small intestine. had 4 strong chemo sessions, had a colonoscopy at this point & found that the tumor was gone!! my oncologist recommeded i finish my scheduled treatments (had 2 more "for insurance")! i am blessed that i had a "great" team of doctors, they acted quickly & with God's help i am a 9 month survivor at this point. when i found out i had cancer i came home & got on the computer to be... Show more was diagnosed with nonhodgkins lymphoma a year ago.. fortunate that it was isolated to my small intestine. had 4 strong chemo sessions, had a colonoscopy at this point & found that the tumor was gone!! my oncologist recommeded i finish my scheduled treatments (had 2 more "for insurance")! i am blessed that i had a "great" team of doctors, they acted quickly & with God's help i am a 9 month survivor at this point. when i found out i had cancer i came home & got on the computer to be better informed, scary but it helped me to "plan" ahead so as to spare my family as much as i could in case the treatments didn't work. Hide

almost 5 years ago, said...

Hi Geobos, Thank you for your question. You may find this article about getting a second opinion helpful: ( http://www.caring.com/articles/cancer-diagnosis-second-opinion ). I hope that helps, take care -- Emily | Community Manager Hi Geobos, Thank you for your question. You may find this article about getting a second opinion helpful: ( http://www.caring.com/articles/cancer-diagnosis-second-opinion ). I hope that helps, take care -- Emily | Community Manager Hide

almost 5 years ago, said...

Can a Doctor be wrong about a CML diagnoses before he takes bone marrow And he said my blood was Mildly Abnormal For CML Can a Doctor be wrong about a CML diagnoses before he takes bone marrow And he said my blood was Mildly Abnormal For CML Hide

about 5 years ago, said...

Hi dobiedoo, Sorry to hear about all the pain you are experiencing. That sounds just awful! You may find some useful information about your condition on our Rheumatoid Arthritis page located here: (http://www.caring.com/rheumatoid-arthritis). Unfortunately, we are unable to diagnose medical problems for our site members. We suggest that you contact your doctor right away regarding your medical issue. I hope you feel better soon! -- Emily Hi dobiedoo, Sorry to hear about all the pain you are experiencing. That sounds just awful! You may find some useful information about your condition on our Rheumatoid Arthritis page located here: (http://www.caring.com/rheumatoid-arthritis). Unfortunately, we are unable to diagnose medical problems for our site members. We suggest that you contact your doctor right away regarding your medical issue. I hope you feel better soon! -- Emily Hide

about 5 years ago, said...

I am 58,Ive been diagnosed with osteoauthritu and Rhumatoid authritus.But there is something else wrong.Because the pain I endure is unbelievable.It is unbarrable.It became very very painful 3 years ago.Now Im just in a state of pain that is terrible.I think there is something else going on.Now everybone in my body is a 10 as pain goes.It brings tears .My bane scan showed my skelton is one big hot spot.But I think there is something going on in my marrow.Help me if you can. I am 58,Ive been diagnosed with osteoauthritu and Rhumatoid authritus.But there is something else wrong.Because the pain I endure is unbelievable.It is unbarrable.It became very very painful 3 years ago.Now Im just in a state of pain that is terrible.I think there is something else going on.Now everybone in my body is a 10 as pain goes.It brings tears .My bane scan showed my skelton is one big hot spot.But I think there is something going on in my marrow.Help me if you can. Hide

over 5 years ago, said...

Hi Pana, Thank you very much for your comment, it's inspiring to hear that you've survived breast cancer. Unfortunately, we are unable to give instruction on matters regarding medications or other personal health concerns to our members. We suggest that you contact your doctor regarding your direct medical questions. We hope our informational site will be of help for you in the future. Thanks again, Emily | Community Manager Hi Pana, Thank you very much for your comment, it's inspiring to hear that you've survived breast cancer. Unfortunately, we are unable to give instruction on matters regarding medications or other personal health concerns to our members. We suggest that you contact your doctor regarding your direct medical questions. We hope our informational site will be of help for you in the future. Thanks again, Emily | Community Manager Hide

over 5 years ago, said...

Can i stop taking my Fermara now i have been taking them 3 years, im a Breast cancer survivor Can i stop taking my Fermara now i have been taking them 3 years, im a Breast cancer survivor Hide

over 5 years ago, said...

Sirs, I had a small tumour of cancer in my tongue.I operated it and took the necessary radiations before 2 years and before 5 years I had pancreatiis now i have no problem in both the diseases. My question to you is Can I have one peg of pure red wine diluted with water with healthy food once in 10 days. My age is 40 years and i have no other physical problem or cronic disease. please reply Sirs, I had a small tumour of cancer in my tongue.I operated it and took the necessary radiations before 2 years and before 5 years I had pancreatiis now i have no problem in both the diseases. My question to you is Can I have one peg of pure red wine diluted with water with healthy food once in 10 days. My age is 40 years and i have no other physical problem or cronic disease. please reply Hide

over 5 years ago, said...

We are new at this my husband just found out he has stage 3b lung cancer We are new at this my husband just found out he has stage 3b lung cancer Hide

about 8 years ago, said...

I wish I had found this site earlier, although I don't know if it would have helped, my mother's Cancer Dr's never seem to know what the other is doing even though they are together. This has been the frustrating part of her illness, also not being honest with us. I wish I had found this site earlier, although I don't know if it would have helped, my mother's Cancer Dr's never seem to know what the other is doing even though they are together. This has been the frustrating part of her illness, also not being honest with us. Hide