Making Treatment Decisions: Questions to Ask

Author: OncoLink Team
Last Reviewed:

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 with you 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.

Surgery

  • Why do I need to have this procedure?
  • Will this surgery cure my cancer or is it only part of my treatment plan?
  • What kind of surgery do you recommend for me?
  • What are the risks and side effects of this surgery?
  • What are the risks if I decide not to have this surgery?
  • What are my options for anesthesia?
  • What are the risks of anesthesia?
  • What kind of incision am I going to have?
  • Will I have a lymph node dissection? If so, how many nodes will be removed?
  • How will I feel after surgery? Will I need pain medication?
  • What kind of care will my incision need after surgery?
  • How long will I stay in the hospital after the surgery?
  • What should I do if I feel like I need more time in the hospital than my insurance will allow?
  • How much time should I expect to allow for recovery at home?
  • Are there physical therapy exercises I should do after surgery? Do you have any information about exercises that I can take with me?
  • How often will I see you for follow-up care after surgery?
  • When will you have the results of my pathology tests? Will I come in to discuss them, or will we talk over the phone?

Chemotherapy

  • How is it administered?
    • If orally, can I obtain it at my local pharmacy or do I need to use a specialty pharmacy?
    • If intravenously, will a central line (port, picc, Hickman) be placed?
    • If given intravenously, how long does each treatment take?
  • How long will I be on chemotherapy?
  • Who prescribes my chemotherapy?
  • What medications will I be receiving?
  • Where do I receive my treatment?
  • Do I have to be in the hospital?
  • What type of side effects might I experience?
  • Are there medications to help prevent side effects?
  • Will there be long-term side effects? If so, are these side effects preventable?
  • Will chemotherapy cure my cancer or will I need other types of treatment?
  • How will my chemotherapy be paid for?
  • Is financial assistance available?
  • Can I work while I'm receiving chemotherapy?
  • How do I know if the treatment is working?
  • Am I eligible for a clinical trial?

Radiation

  • Which type of radiation therapy will I receive? Is there more than one option for me?
  • Can I be treated with radiation again in the future if I need it?
  • When will treatment start? When will it end? How often will I have treatments?
  • Will I need to stay in the hospital?
  • What can I do to take care of myself before, during, and after treatment?
  • How will I feel during treatment? Will I be able to drive myself to and from treatment?
  • Where (treatment center) will I receive my treatment?
  • What type of side effects can I expect?
  • How will we know the treatment is working?
  • How will I feel after the radiation therapy finishes?
  • Are there any lasting/long term effects of radiation treatments? If so, are they preventable?
  • What type of precautions do I need to consider while receiving radiation?
  • Will my medical insurance cover all charges for the radiation treatments?
  • If I need medications to help with side effects, will they be covered by insurance?
  • Can I work while I'm receiving radiation therapy?
  • Will radiation be used in conjunction with other therapies? If so, which ones?

Palliative Care

  • What is palliative care?
  • Are palliative care and hospice the same?
  • Why am I being referred to a palliative care specialist?
  • What will the palliative care team offer to me in conjunction with my standard therapy?
  • Will my insurance cover palliative care?
  • How long will I be able to receive palliative care services?
  • Where will I receive palliative care?
  • Who provides palliative care services?
  • Is there support available for my family in conjunction with palliative care?
  • Can I still receive chemotherapy and radiation while receiving palliative care?

Hospice care

  • How does hospice care differ from palliative care?
  • Why am I being referred for hospice care?
  • Can I continue to receive chemotherapy and radiation while receiving hospice care?
  • Does my insurance cover hospice care?
  • Where is hospice care provided?
  • Who provides hospice services?
  • What kind of support will my family receive as part of hospice?
  • Does hospice provide 24-hour care?
  • How will the hospice team manage my pain and other symptoms?
  • Can I still see my doctor while receiving hospice care?
  • Can I be discharged from hospice if I want to switch the goals of my care?
  • Will hospice provide equipment and medications I need to be comfortable?
  • What ancillary services are provided with hospice – music therapy, spiritual care, integrative therapies, pet therapy?
  • What if there is an emergency in the middle of the night – what is the response time and emergency plan?
  • Do I have to have a do not resuscitate (DNR) order to receive hospice care?
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