Questions to Ask Your Doctor When You Hear the Word “Cancer”

Treatment // January 20, 2016

Every year, roughly 14 million people around the world learn they have cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, an estimated 1,685,210 Americans were diagnosed in 2015 alone. About 3,000 of those cases are mesothelioma diagnoses.

While it may happen to many, learning you have cancer is an overwhelming experience that can feel impossible to navigate. What happens next? Instead of jumping on the computer and heading down an often misinformed path, the first thing we recommend you do is ask your doctor questions.

Example Questions

First, it’s important to understand that no question is too small, too big — too anything. If it pops into your head, ask it. Beyond that, asking questions helps make you an active patient by keeping you more informed. Active patients report being able to cope better with diagnosis, treatment, and survivorship. Furthermore, maintaining an open dialogue with your doctor helps to better establish your relationship and build mutual trust, which can go a long way.

Below are examples of questions you could ask regarding general information, symptoms, diagnosis, staging, treatment, support, and more. Depending on what’s most relevant to you, feel free to expand on or ignore any of the following:

  • What type of cancer do I have?
  • How many people are diagnosed with this type of cancer each year?
  • Where is it located?
  • What are the risk factors?
  • Where should I go to find more information?
  • What symptoms should I expect, and are there any that are rare?
  • How can I help manage my symptoms?
  • What diagnostic tests will I need and how often?
  • What should I do to prepare for them?
  • What is my prognosis?
  • What are my treatment options?
  • What are clinical trials, and are there any for this disease?
  • What support resources can I take advantage of?
  • What do follow-up tests entail?

Then What?

Going forward, write down thoughts, feelings, and further questions that come up as your journey moves forward — whether it’s in a notebook, on an app, on your computer, etc. Perhaps there is something you discussed that you realize you don’t understand fully, or you read something that you’d like to ask him or her about. Remember, a lot of information you come across may not be accurate; this is why it’s so important to continually talk to your doctor.

The habit of taking notes will help you better prepare for follow-up appointments, and further make you feel more in control of your own care.