“Always ask your questions, and make sure that you are on top of your own health.”
Asking your doctor plenty of questions after a cancer diagnosis has many advantages. When you understand the diagnosis better, you can make more informed treatment decisions. When you understand your treatment, you’re more prepared for side effects and other stressors. All of this may help improve your quality of life and sense of control during cancer.
However, it’s not always easy. You might feel stressed during doctor appointments, which might make you forget key questions. You might also feel overwhelmed by all the new information. This can make it hard to know what questions you should even be asking.
Not sure what to ask your doctor? Here are some tips from patients and caregivers for asking questions about your cancer diagnosis.
What questions should you ask your doctor after a cancer diagnosis?
Prepare questions in advance
“I can't just walk into a scenario as a caregiver without intelligent questions in my arsenal… Who are the other specialists in the world that I can do my research on to comfort myself that this is the right course of action for my child? What contacts do you have for me where I can reach out and ask for a second or third opinion? Do you have their phone number [and] email address? Can you make an introduction? What are the side effects that I should be prepared for that's going to happen to my child? Could you tell me questions that I'm not even thinking of asking?”
— Stephen Pecevich, father and caregiver of a brain cancer survivor
Bring a loved one
“My wife was extremely involved in doctors appointments. She often would write down all of our questions ahead of time. She was always there to support and assist in that way. [I] recommend that as well because whether you're on pain meds or whatever, it's enough of a brain fog just getting the diagnosis alone that you're going to forget some stuff.”
— Erik Hale, diagnosed with stage IIIA lung cancer and then stage IIIB lung cancer
Learn about your diagnosis
“A lot of the questions had to do with dealing with side effects … but also more medically technical information such as tumor burden and mutations, K-Ras, and BRAF mutations, and how that actually could change the ability of what chemotherapies I was taking, if I was eligible for immunotherapies that were new and helping people every day.”
— Howard Brown, diagnosed with stage IV non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, stage III colon cancer, then stage IV colon cancer
Ask about the ways the cancer or treatment might affect you
“I asked a lot about my infertility and any chance to save any eggs, what that process would be like, how long my lifespan might be, the difference would be if we saved eggs versus if we didn't, how long the surgery would be, what recovery might be like, and what my quality of life would be. There really are limitless questions.”
— Lexi Mestas, diagnosed with ovarian cancer
Take the driver’s seat of your cancer care
“You are in the driver's seat of your health, and so you have to vocalize your needs. Always ask your questions, and make sure that you are on top of your own health. Your doctor can't do that for you. You are driving the ship, and they are coming along and assisting you to help you get to your destination, so make sure you feel right about the decisions that you're making, and if you don't, express your concerns to your doctor.”
— Aisha Patterson, diagnosed with stage II breast cancer