The First Visit to a Specialist

Carolyn Vachani, RN, MSN, AOCN
Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania
Last Modified: December 29, 2014

When you go to see an oncology specialist, he or she will discuss at length your disease and the treatment options available to you. This can be overwhelming, but there are ways to make it feel more manageable. Many people find that once they leave the office they cannot remember what was said or at least not all that was said. It is a good idea to bring along a supportive friend or family member. You want someone who is a good listener, can take notes, be supportive and not try to influence your decisions. While you are trying to listen to the doctor, they can be taking notes to refer to later and they may be able to think of questions during the appointment that you may not have thought of. You may want to ask for permission to tape the conversation, particularly if you have a large family that will want to know everything that was said.

In preparation for the visit, you may want to read some information on your disease, if you already know what type of cancer you have. You will be better able to ask questions and understand the healthcare team if you have some basic knowledge about the disease. Visit OncoLink's cancer types menu to read about a particular type of cancer. Other good websites for basic information are the National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society. If you do not have access to the Internet, ask a friend or family member to print something from the Internet for you, visit your local library or call the American Cancer Society (800- ACS -2345). As you learn more about the disease, questions may come up. Make a list of these questions and bring them to your appointments, this holds true throughout treatment and follow-up. This way, you are sure not to get home and realize you forgot to ask about something that had been bugging you.

There are a few things to be sure to gather for your appointment:

  • Forward all of your recent medical records including operative reports, pathology reports, and radiology reports to your oncologist, or bring copies with you.
  • Make sure you have any necessary referrals prior to the appointment.
  • Bring all of your recent radiology films including x-rays, mammograms, CAT scans, MRI scans, and ultrasounds to your oncology appointment if these exams were performed at another location. These will be given to you on a disc and can be picked up from the radiology department at the facility that performed the test. You may need to give 24 hours notice to have them ready to be picked up.
  • Bring pathology slides for review if a surgery or biopsy diagnosing cancer was done at another institution. This should include the actual slides and the report from the pathologist and can be picked up or mailed from the pathology department where the surgery or biopsy was performed.
  • Make sure the doctor's office has received all of the necessary information prior to your visit if you had things mailed to them. It is best to call a day or 2 ahead in case they have not been received and you need to pick things up.
  • Bring a list of all of your medications and any allergies to medications.
  • Bring a list of the physicians and addresses to whom you want reports of the consultation sent.
  • Make sure you bring your health insurance identification card and a picture ID, if you have one.
  • Get all of your questions answered prior to leaving. This is when the question list and the person accompanying you come in handy.
  • If you need one, get an appointment for follow-up before you leave.
  • Make sure your have the phone number of your doctor's secretary and/or nurse.
  • Do not become frustrated if additional blood tests, x-rays, or other procedures are necessary prior to getting a final recommendation. Many centers will want their pathologists and radiologists to review materials or establish a baseline before treatment begins.
  • Keep a journal of tests, procedures, and treatments that includes the date, location, and physician involved.
  • OncoPilot forms can help you create an organized binder to keep all your treatment information together - get a 3 ring binder to put your pages in and create a treatment binder.


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From the National Cancer Institute