New Diagnosis: Questions to Ask

Author: Christina Bach, MBE, LCSW, OSW-C
Last Reviewed: July 11, 2024

These questions are things you may want to ask about when visiting your cancer care team. They are meant to be food for thought when making a list of questions to ask your team, either at the initial visit or further along in treatment. You may not need to ask all of these and you may not want to know the answers to all of them at your first visit. 

Get a notebook or use your notes app to write down your questions ahead of time so you don’t forget them at the appointment. Take someone with you to your appointment and share the questions you have with them before you go person. They can take notes, and provide support. A second set of ears and eyes is helpful. Visits can be packed with information and often feel overwhelming - taking notes, asking the provider 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)?
  • Are they 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? 
    • Ask for specifics--for example what type of non-hodgkin lymphoma or lung 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?
  • Do I have other treatment options?
  • Does this facility have access to all of these treatments?
    • If not, where could I get these treatments?
  • 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?
    • Are you in-network with my insurance company?
    • Can you provide me with an estimate of my out of pocket expenses associated with these treatments?
  • If I get this treatment now, will it keep me from getting other treatments later?
  • 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 show if the treatment is working?
  • 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 are the side effects associated with these treatments?
  • 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?
  • Is palliative care available to help manage my symptoms?

Questions about the Team

  • Who are the other members of the team I will work with and how do I get in touch with them (Example: radiation therapy, surgical and medical oncology, dietitian, navigator, chaplain, 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?
  • Is there someone at this facility who can estimate my costs for care and help me navigate financial resources?

Once a Treatment Plan is Decided

  • 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 educational materials concerning my treatment?
  • Can you recommend any websites concerning my treatment?

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