Making the Most of Your Oncology Visit

It is normal to be anxious, fearful, and angry when a cancer diagnosis is suspected. I can remember how scared I felt even as an experienced RN. I truly had trouble assimilating what the physician was telling me. The following are some tips to help you get the most out of your visit with the oncologist. As a patient, you are entitled to ask your physician any question, however, you need to have well-timed, organized and well thought out questions.

Preparing for your appointment

It is helpful to write down your medical history and timeline of events. Include notes about your symptoms and what tests were done. Were you referred to additional specialists? Have you been previously treated for cancer? I started a composition book to include all this information and have updated it with all physician visits or treatments. This strategy helps keep facts readily available.

Bring copies of your reports and other requested materials. Include copies of scans, X-rays, MRIs, CTs, and other imaging tests that were done and pathology slides if a biopsy was performed.1

Have a list of all medications that you take including over the counter meds, pain relievers, vitamins, herbs, and supplements. Be sure to include accurate dosages.1

Consider bringing a family member or friend to be another set of ears. From a personal perspective, anxiety can interfere with what you actually hear and retain. My husband heard facts that I did not remember. This companion can take notes to help you recall and remind you of important questions to ask.

At the doctor's office

You may want to ask the physician when is a good time to ask questions.2 The physician may prefer to perform a physical exam and then address the questions. Bring an organized list of questions.

Helpful hints

If you do not understand something, say so. Do not nod your head. Ask for clarification. Ask the physician to explain in simpler terms if something is not clear.

Restate what the physician has said, as this will reinforce that you have a clear understanding. Listen closely, as many of your questions may be answered during the conversation.

Questions you may want to ask

  • What is my diagnosis and how soon do I need to start therapy?
  • What is the goal of treatment? This can range from defeating the cancer entirely, to slow its growth and prolonging life, or improve the quality of life for the patient’s remaining days.3
  • What are my treatment options, what is involved, and how long will each treatment take?
  • What are the side effects of treatment?
  • How effective is the treatment? Please explain how the treatment will help?
  • Why do you think this is the best treatment for me?
  • Is there a clinical trial for which I might be eligible? What are the benefits and risks of doing so?
  • Will I be able to continue my normal activities during treatment? If not, how soon after treatment?
  • Will I be able to resume my normal activities? Work? Sexual activity? Aerobic activity?
  • Is it safe to take vitamins or herbals during treatment?
  • What are the reasons I should call you at night or over a weekend? ( i.e. fever, pain, other?)
  • What are some of the support groups I can turn to during treatment?
  • What will treatment cost? Chemotherapy and other treatments may be expensive and result in greater patient cost out of pocket. Someone should be available to answer these questions.
  • Where do you recommend getting a second opinion? Patients may be intimidated to ask because you may not want to offend the physician. However, this provides a second pathology review, especially if done in a smaller hospital.

A cancer diagnosis can be devasting. Patients may react to diagnostic and treatment information with fear, grief, denial, or anger. I have utilized the above questions in order to seek clarification and make important care decisions.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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