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Your oncologist wants you to receive the best treatment possible. Answers to these questions will help guide you in choosing those treatments.
When you are diagnosed with cancer, there are so many questions to consider that it may be hard to know where to begin. Gathering as much information as you can about your diagnosis and treatment options, though, can help you and your doctors make the decision that is best for you.
Treatment options vary
There are several basic “pillars of cancer care” including radiation therapy, surgery, cytotoxic chemotherapy, targeted therapy and immunotherapy. A combination of these treatment approaches is commonly prescribed for many patients, based on their type of cancer and how advanced it is. In these situations, a team of cancer specialists—including radiation oncologists, medical oncologists and surgical oncologists—often hold what is called a “tumor board” or “multidisciplinary consult,” where they can discuss the best treatment approach for that particular patient.
At the tumor board, the specialists consider which therapies best meet the patient’s needs, and coordinate care as a team.
Questions to ask
The following list of questions can help you navigate your individual fight against cancer. Your physicians care about what's important to you and your concerns. This can be an overwhelming time. It can be helpful to bring a friend or family member with you to take notes.
- What type of cancer do I have? What stage?
- What other diagnostic tests are needed to develop a treatment plan for me?
- Can I have a multidisciplinary consult (a meeting with oncologists who treat cancer with different methods such as radiation therapy, surgery, chemotherapy)?
- What is the purpose of the treatment recommended for my type of cancer? For example, is the treatment intended to remove the tumor, shrink the tumor, cure my cancer, control cancer growth, or just help me feel better and relieve symptoms?
- If multiple types of treatment, such as radiation therapy, surgery or chemotherapy, are prescribed, in what order will they be given? Will the treatments be administered at the same time or one after another?
- How will the treatment be delivered? Ask for specifics, for example, chemotherapy can be delivered by a pill or intravenously; radiation therapy can be delivered with various techniques as well as externally or internally; surgery can remove just the tumor or include lymph nodes.
- How long will the treatment take, and how often will I receive treatment?
- Will I need more treatment later?
- What do these treatments feel like?
- Are there side effects? Are these short-term? Will there be any long-term side effects?
- Is there a clinical trial for which I might be eligible? Should I participate in a clinical trial? A clinical trial is a study that tests new treatments. Patients who participate in a clinical trial are carefully monitored to make sure they are getting quality care.
- If I have questions after I leave the doctor’s office, who can I call or email?
There are many emotional demands on you and your caregivers during the cancer diagnosis and treatment. Be sure to seek out support. To find a support group in the area ask your doctor. There are many groups that meet by phone or in person.
Bruce Minsky M.D. "12 Things to Ask After a Cancer Diagnosis." Future of Personal Health, Accessed 17 September 2016.