What Questions Should I Ask My Doctor?

In-Depth Insights |  Written by Sarah Stanley, with contributions from Cancer Commons scientists

When faced with an advanced cancer diagnosis, it can be difficult to know what questions to ask. At Cancer Commons, we help patients and caregivers navigate a vast sea of cancer information so they can work with their doctor to pinpoint their best possible treatment plan.

Based on our years of experience helping patients and caregivers around the world, here are some good questions for you to ask your doctor:

Understanding treatment options:

  • What are the details of my cancer? What stage is it, and what is its histology?
  • What are my treatment options, and which do you recommend? Why?
  • Which comprehensive molecular testing option do you recommend to help choose my optimal treatment plan? How long will the results take, and should I wait for them before starting treatment?
  • Could enrolling in a clinical trial expand my treatment options? Which clinical trials are my best options? Are they local, or would I have to travel?
  • If I’m not yet ready for a clinical trial, but want to keep open the possibility of joining one in the future, are there any treatments I should avoid now in order to make sure I’m still eligible later?
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of each of my treatment options? How well have they worked for other patients like me?
  • If applicable when seeking a second opinion: Why do you think this is a better option than the one recommended by my other doctor?
  • What would you do for yourself, your spouse, or your children if in my shoes?

Treatment details:

  • Will my insurance, Medicare, or Medicaid cover your recommended tests and treatments? How much will I have to pay out of pocket?
  • Is my treatment given as a pill or an infusion? If an infusion, how long will each session be, and will I need to go home with a pump?
  • How will my treatment make me feel? What side effects can I expect in the short and long term, and how can I manage them?
  • During and after my treatment, how often will I need to come in for tests, such as blood draws and scans?
  • What other specialists do I need to see? Do I need referrals to a dietician, psychologist, pain specialist, endocrinologist, and/or anyone else?
  • What should I be keeping track of and how often? For instance, should I keep a pain diary and/or track my side effects and symptoms?

Other important questions:

  • Is my kind of cancer common? How many people are diagnosed with it each year?
  • Is there a genetic link to my specific kind of cancer? Should I or my family get genetic testing or see a genetic counselor?
  • Will my fertility be affected by my treatment?
  • What are the chances of my cancer coming back after treatment?
  • What complementary treatments are safe and beneficial for me to use?
  • What are the best online sources of information for me to consult?

Never hesitate to ask your doctor about anything that’s on your mind, and to ask for clarification about anything confusing. Patients and caregivers can be their own best advocates, and it’s important to ensure that you and your care team are on the same page.

We also recommend that you write down your questions before meeting with your doctor and take notes during the appointment. You may consider asking someone close to you—a spouse, your adult child, a friend—to accompany you. This person can take notes or even record the conversation.

And of course, we are always happy to provide extra guidance that could help you and your doctor choose your best treatment plan. Learn more here.

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