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20 Essential Questions After a Diagnosis

20 Questions to Ask Your Family's Oncologist About the Diagnosis 


A cancer diagnosis can be so shocking that it may be hard for you and your parent to know where to begin when talking to the doctor. It is common to feel completely tongue-tied, wondering if it is okay to even let the things you are thinking about cross your lips. For example, the first question on your mind may be "Is it curable?" Well, that is a perfectly reasonable thing to be wondering. The doctor may not be able to give you a definitive answer, but asking the question allows you to begin planning and start a conversation about what has to come.

Keep Calm. There is life after cancer.

When accompanying your parent to the doctor appointment, it is a good idea to bring a pen and paper to take notes, or ask the doctor's staff to provide writing materials. Many people find that no matter how hard they listen during appointments, the information becomes a blur as soon as they leave the office. (If you have a tape recorder, you might even want to bring it or another recording device, but ask the doctor before you turn it on.) Start by quickly making a mental list of everything that is unclear. Do not worry if some of your questions seem obvious -- if you and your parent do not know the answer that makes a question absolutely worth asking. If the answer to one question brings another to mind, ask that as well. You will find that at each appointment and stage of treatment, more questions will come up. Nevertheless, here are some to get you started.

20 Essential Questions

1. Can you be absolutely sure it is cancer? How did you make the diagnosis?
2. What tests have you run and what tests are available that my parent has not had yet?
3. Is this type of cancer rare or relatively common? How many cases have you seen?
4. How advanced is my parent's cancer? Has it spread to more than one area?
5. Why are you recommending this particular treatment?
6. Are there other treatment options available for this cancer, and what are the pros and cons of each?
7. Is there any written material about the recommended treatment that we can take home to read?
8. What are the goals of this treatment, and what is the success rate?
9. How long will the treatment last?
10. What are the risks of this treatment?
11. What are the side effects of this treatment?
12. Are there ways to manage the side effects?
13. How do we know if a side effect is severe enough to warrant calling you?
14. What do we need to do to prepare for this treatment?
15. Is there anything my parent needs to avoid before or during treatment?
16. Can you tell us what to expect during treatment -- where does it take place, how long does it last, and is it uncomfortable?
17. How will my parent feel after treatment, both immediately afterward and in the days that follow?
18. Should my parent make certain diet or lifestyle changes, and how can I help with these?
19. Are there any new treatment options or clinical trials we should be aware of?
20. What is the best way for us to contact you when we have more questions about the treatment?