Just Diagnosed with Colorectal Cancer: Questions to Ask Your Doctor

Open communication is key to finding the right treatment plan.

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Finding out that you or a loved one has colorectal cancer is difficult on its own. Then, you’re flooded with new information about your diagnosis and treatment options, which may leave you feeling overwhelmed and maybe even confused. 

That’s why it’s important to turn to your doctor and medical team for clarity and comfort. They’ll help you understand your diagnosis, what your treatment options are, what treatment side effects to expect, and where you can find counseling or psychological support. 

Having open and honest communication with your care team is the path to finding the best treatment plan for you. This includes not only understanding what your doctor tells you, but not being afraid to ask questions that are important to you. “It's extremely overwhelming to go through cancer,” says Rujuta Saksena, MD, hematologist and oncologist in New Jersey. “The more you know, the better position you will be in in terms of being able to deal with it and what to anticipate with the upcoming treatment options.”

Not sure where to start? Here’s a list of suggested questions to ask your doctor to better understand your diagnosis and treatment options:

Questions to Ask About Your Diagnosis

  • Where is the cancer located?
  • Has the cancer spread beyond where it started?
  • What is the cancer’s stage (extent), and what does that mean?
  • Will I need other tests before we can decide on treatment?
  • Do I need to see any other doctors or health professionals?

Questions to Ask About Your Treatment Options

  • What are my treatment options?
  • What do you recommend and why?
  • Should I get a second opinion? 
  • What would the goal of the treatment be?
  • What does the treatment process look like?
  • What are the risks or side effects of these treatments?
  • How might treatment affect my daily activities?
  • What are the chances the cancer will recur (come back) with these treatment plans? 
  • What will happen if the cancer does come back?

Preparing for Your Appointment

Before your appointment, it can be helpful to write all your questions down. Bring a blank notepad and pen to your appointment as well so you can write down the information your doctor gives you. 

You may also want to consider bringing a friend or loved one with you for support. “It would be helpful for the patients to bring along a family member or a friend or a partner so that they're able to have a second set of eyes and ears when it comes to this conversation between them and the oncologist or the surgeon,” says Dr. Saksena. 

And remember: You are a critical part of your cancer care team. “It's very important for [patients] to ask all the right questions, but also let their providers and their care team know if there's something that they're not happy about,” says Dr. Saksena. “We're all here to support the cancer patients through their journey and ultimately that's going to be the best way to help them throughout.”