New Diagnosis: Questions to Ask

Carolyn Vachani, RN, MSN, AOCN
Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania
Last Modified: March 20, 2015

These questions are things you may want to ask about when visiting your doctor. Not every question will apply to you, and you may not want to know the answers to all of them at your first visit. They are meant to be food for thought when making a list of questions to ask your doctor, either at the initial visit or further along in treatment.

Get a notebook to write your questions down ahead of time so you don’t forget them at the appointment. Take an open-minded person along to appointments to provide support, but also to remember what is said and help you remember it once you get home. Visits can be packed with information and often feel overwhelming - taking notes, asking the physician to write things down for you or even recording the visit (with permission from the provider), can all help.

Questions to ask when making an appointment:

  • Is this doctor Board certified and licensed in this area (medical, radiation or surgical oncology)?
  • Is he or she a member of any professional societies?
  • Do you have a multidisciplinary clinic for my type of cancer (this is a clinic where you would see several doctors in one visit)?

Questions about the disease and treatment:

  • What type of cancer do I have?
  • What stage is my cancer?
  • How many patients have you treated with my type of cancer?
  • What treatments are considered the gold standard for my cancer and what other options do I have?
  • Does this facility have access to all of these treatments?
  • If not where are these treatments located?
  • Are there other possible treatments that are not available at this facility?
  • What are the pros and cons and side effects of these treatment options? What are the expected survival rates with these treatments?
  • Are these treatments covered by my insurance plan?
  • Will receiving this treatment prevent me from receiving a different type of treatment in the future if I need it?
  • Are there clinical trials available for my cancer at this facility?
    • If not, where can I learn about clinical trials?
  • Are there any more tests that need to be done before starting treatment?
  • What tests will determine how my disease responds to the treatment?
  • How often will these tests be done during and after treatment?
  • Will you change my treatment if it does not appear to be working?
  • How long will the treatment last?
  • How often will I see you during and after treatment?
  • What signs or symptoms should I bring to your attention to help you observe my treatment and evaluate my response to treatment?

Questions about prognosis and survival:

  • Do you expect a cure from these treatments?
  • If not, what is the goal of therapy?
  • What percentage of patients with my type of tumor live five years or more?

Questions about the team:

  • Do you work closely with other members of the cancer care team, such as radiation therapy, surgical and medical oncology, dietitian, social work and nursing?
  • Do I have access to a dietitian at this facility?
  • Do I have access to a social worker at this facility?
  • Are there any support groups available at this facility?
  • What other services are available to help me and my family deal with the disease?

Once a treatment is chosen:

  • What are the expected side effects?
  • What problems should I report to you? (fever, diarrhea, nausea/vomiting, etc.)
  • How do I reach someone for problems in the evening or on the weekends?
  • What can I do to prevent or control these side effects?
  • Can I drive myself to and from the treatment?
  • Do I need to take any special precautions at home (in regards to children, pets)?
  • Will I be able to continue my normal activities/can I go to work?
  • Will this therapy affect my sex life or my ability to have children?
  • Do I need a special diet during or after my treatment?
  • Do you have any written materials concerning my treatment?
  • Can you recommend any websites concerning my treatment?


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