Questions To Ask the Doctor After a Cancer Diagnosis


When someone you love is diagnosed with cancer, the news is devastating for the entire family. Fear of the unknown, not knowing "what to do now," concerns over treatments, side effects and prognosis all take a toll. One way to combat the fear of the unknown and face the cancer head on, is to arm yourself with information. Here are some tips to help caregivers take care of an elderly relative who has cancer.

Questions to Ask About the Diagnosis Itself

First, get as much information as you can from the doctor. If you forget to ask something while you are in the office, schedule a follow-up appointment. Here are some questions to ask:

  • What type of cancer does my parent have?
  • Where exactly is it located?
  • What are the risk factors for this disease?
  • Is this type of cancer caused by genetic factors? Are other members of my family at risk?
  • How many people are diagnosed with this type of cancer each year?
  • What lifestyle changes (diet, exercise, rest) do you recommend that my parent make to stay as healthy as possible before, during, and after treatment?
  • Where can I find more information about this type of cancer?
  • What is the stage of the cancer? What does this mean?
  • Has cancer spread to the lymph nodes or anywhere else?
  • How is staging used to determine cancer treatment?
  • What treatments will be used? Where can I get more information on these treatments?
  • What types of side effects can we expect?
  • What is the prognosis (chance of recovery)?

Questions to Ask About Treatment

Keep in mind that all treatments come with risks and benefits. Talk about these with your doctor. To decide whether the treatment is right for your parent, consider your parent's medical history, current condition and the chance that it will put the cancer into remission. Here are some questions to ask:

  • What are the treatment options?
  • What is the goal of each treatment?
  • What treatment do you recommend? Why?
  • How much experience do you have treating this type of cancer?
  • How will this treatment benefit my parent?
  • Will my parent need to be hospitalized for treatment, or is this treatment done in an outpatient clinic?
  • What is the expected timeline for the treatment plan? Does he/she need to be treated right away?
  • How will this treatment affect daily life?
  • What are the short-term side effects of this treatment?
  • What long-term side effects may be associated with this cancer treatment?
  • Besides treating cancer, what can be done to treat the symptoms?
  • What clinical trials (research studies involving people) are there?
  • How can I help keep my parent as healthy as possible during treatment?

The National Cancer Institute conducts and supports research, training, health information dissemination, and other programs with respect to the cause, diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of cancer, rehabilitation from cancer, and the continuing care of cancer patients and the families of cancer patients.

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Excellent list of questions to discuss with the doctor! I am glad to see a choice of no treatment is a viable option for some patients. My husband is 87 and has just been diagnosed with malignant bladder cancer. The doctor's body language was negative as she went through his options. Chemo and radiation were not encouraged at all; the tumor is lodged in the wall of the bladder and is extremely large. As for having his bladder and other organs removed, my husband told me that he would not do that. His thinking is, at his age, something is going to kill him. With heart problems, it might be a heart attack. With the cancer, he will maintain his current quality of life until the cancer begins to affect it more than now. In the meantime, we have a couple of other minor surgeries scheduled for both of us. We are looking forward to having them completed. We plan to spend Thanksgiving with his middle daughter and family in another state. And, we are looking forward to our cruise the second week of December. As we both agreed, we still have a lot of living to do. He was released from the hospital today after a night of observation. We were both exhausted, of course; so, we took a nap. Then I cooked his choice of dinner and added a special touch or two, which pleased him. When he urinates, there is a small amount of blood at the beginning from the cystoscopy, then his urine is clear. He said we are all going to die from something, so why worry about what it will be. We will do our best to live each day as if it were our last and do things now that he might not be able to do later. At the end of the day, as we embraced, I said well, today has been a successful are home; we now know what the problem was; I enjoyed cooking for you and adding special touches, and here we stand holding each other and feeling more alive and loved than ever. He responded, "Indeed!" Thank you for this article; it added one or two questions to my list I want to talk to the doctor about when we have the follow-up appointment. Most of the information will be to pass along to his daughters and their children for "family medical history."