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Questions to Ask Your Doctor

Given that your time with the doctor is limited, it's helpful to prepare for the visit in advance by prioritizing the questions that are important to you. You may want to start your discussion with the doctor with a statement about your personal goal for this appointment (i.e., the main question or concern you want to address).

Let the doctor know in advance how involved you would like to be in decision-making, and how much detailed information you would like him or her to give you. Also, keep in mind that you can direct questions about financial issues or emotional support to other members of the medical team or to the Cancer Resource Center.

It is not uncommon during the first few office visits to be overwhelmed and to forget much of what is said. You might consider bringing a family member or loved one to your first few visits. Having another person there to ask questions and to review the information with you afterwards can be extremely helpful.

If you'd like to tape record your visit to review at a later time, tape recorders are available for loan at the Cancer Resource Center. It also is a good idea to bring a notebook with a list of questions for your doctor and a pen to jot down important information. You also can ask your doctor to send you a copy of his or her evaluation and treatment recommendations.

If you would like help in preparing for your doctor's visit, the Consultation Planning program at the Cancer Resource Center can help you identify your key questions and concerns. These questions and concerns are then organized into a flow chart, which serves as a guide for your discussion with the doctor. Consultation Planning is provided as a free service. Call the UCSF Cancer Resource Center at (415) 885-3693 for more information.

Diagnosis

  • What stage is my cancer?
  • Can you tell if this is a fast-growing type of cancer, or a slow-growing type?

Tests

  • What tests will I have?
  • When should I expect the results from these tests?
  • What will these tests tell me about my cancer?
  • How long after I have these tests will I know the results?
  • Who will call me with the results of these tests? Or, whom should I call to get the results?
  • If I need to get copies of my records, scans, X-rays, whom do I contact?
  • Do I have to do anything special to prepare for the tests?
  • Do these tests have any side effects?

Doctors

  • How many doctors will be involved in my care? Who are they? What are their roles?
  • Who will be the doctor in charge of coordinating my care and the rest of the doctors?
  • What other health care professionals can I expect to be involved in my care?

Treatment

  • What is the standard treatment for my type of cancer?
  • How many patients have you treated with this treatment? What have been the results?
  • How does this compare to other institutions?
  • What is the future outlook (prognosis) for my type of cancer with standard treatment?
  • Are there any other treatments that might be appropriate for my type of cancer?
  • What treatment do you recommend? On what do you base your recommendation?
  • What are the risks or benefits of the treatment you are recommending?
  • Who would you recommend that I talk to for a second opinion?
  • What percentage of patients usually respond to this treatment?
  • How long does each treatment last?
  • How long is the entire course of therapy?
  • How often will I be treated?
  • What type of results should I expect to see with the treatment?
  • Will there be tests during my treatment to determine if it is working?
  • What will it feel like to get treated?
  • Can someone accompany me to my treatment?
  • Can I drive to and from my appointments? Is parking available?
  • Can I stay alone after my treatments, or do I need to have someone stay with me?
  • Will I have to be in the hospital to receive my treatments?
  • Who will administer my treatments?
  • How often, during treatment, will I see a doctor? The nurse?
  • Will a reduction in or delay of the recommended therapy reduce my chances of being cured?
  • Are there foods or medications or activities that I should avoid while I am going through treatment?
  • How soon after treatment can I go back to work?

Clinical Trials

  • Are there any clinical trials or research being done on my type of cancer?
  • Are there any clinical trials that you particularly recommend?
  • Am I a candidate for any of the clinical trials that you recommend?
  • Where can I find related research information?
  • Is there anyone else in the area that is involved in research that I might contact to discuss my cancer?
  • How much time do I have to make a decision about my treatment options?

Financial Issues

  • Will the required treatment require out of pocket expenses?
  • Is there someone in your office (or facility) who assists patients with questions about insurance? Who would that be?
  • If my insurance doesn't pay for a particular treatment or medication, will you recommend an alternative treatment? What if it is less effective?
  • Who can I talk to about getting treatment if I don't have insurance?
  • Who can I talk to about pharmacy assistance programs if my insurance doesn't cover a particular medication?

Support

  • Where can I get literature about my illness?
  • Are you willing to speak to my spouse or other family members about my illness and my treatments?
  • Where can I find out about support groups?
  • Can I speak to someone who has undergone this type of treatment?
  • Is there a social worker that I could talk with?
  • Is there a dietitian on staff if I have nutritional concerns or difficulties?
  • Do I need to be on a special diet?
  • Are there any lifestyle changes you would recommend?
  • Who do I call if I have an emergency medical situation during my treatment, or shortly afterwards?
  • What are the telephone numbers I should have in order to reach you? The nurse? The hospital?

Side Effects

  • Should I watch for any particular symptoms?
  • How likely are they to occur?
  • What should I do if I have side effects?
  • Who should I call if I experience severe side effects?
  • What can be done to prevent these side effects or reduce their severity?
  • When might these side effects occur?
  • Could these side effects be life threatening?
  • How long will the side effects last?
  • What treatments are available to manage these side effects?

More Information:

Please see our patient education article, Communicating With Your Doctor.

For additional information or resources, please visit:

Cancer Resource Center
1600 Divisadero St., First Floor
San Francisco, CA 94115
(415) 885-3693

 

Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Medical Center.

This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor or health care provider. We encourage you to discuss with your doctor any questions or concerns you may have.