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5 Questions to Ask When You’ve Been Diagnosed with Cancer

Cancer Healthy Aging
Doctor discusses health concerns with senior couple

If you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, you probably feel overwhelmed with questions and fears. Managing your health is complex during the best of times. But, learning about your cancer and the next steps is especially difficult when your emotions are running high. Fortunately, you don’t have to feel afraid or alone.

“Over one and a half million new cancer cases are diagnosed each year, but new cancer treatments and medications are prolonging many lives,” says Amy Skorupa, M.D., medical oncologist with Riverside Health System.

Any person who has been recently diagnosed with cancer can learn more about their disease by asking their doctors five important questions. Take notes when you speak to your oncologist (cancer doctor) and other medical specialists as they answer your questions. This may help you think of other questions you want to ask.

1. Where is this cancer located, and what is the cancer’s stage?

First, ask your doctor the name and type of the cancer, its size and where it is located, where the cancer started, and if it has spread to other areas in the body. This information usually determines your treatment options.

2. Can I get a second opinion? Can you recommend some of your colleagues to provide a second opinion? 

It's always a good idea to get a second opinion from an oncologist. You can visit a cancer physician at a center that specializes in cancer care. Some treatment centers are affiliated with a university or medical center, while some are private cancer centers. 

While second opinions are common, it’s not necessary to visit several different cancer specialists to see several doctors who could potentially tell you the exact same diagnosis.

3. Which treatment(s) do you recommend, and why?

Treatment options for cancer vary. Ask about your disease and the common ways to treat it; your doctor can discuss all of your treatment options. 

Some cancers are treated with surgery; some cancers respond better to radiation; others to chemotherapy or hormonal treatments. Some require one type of therapy; others a combination.

In some cases, observation rather than treatment might be needed. Some cancers cause few if any symptoms, and you might not have any symptoms. However, other forms of cancers are aggressive and can cause major problems and symptoms. In those cases, treatment is often medically necessary. Talk to your doctor and discuss what would happen if you don’t receive treatment, and find out your treatment options. 

4. What is the goal of my treatment(s)?

Ask your health care provider about the treatment goals that have been set for you. Cancer treatment has two main goals: To remove as much cancer as possible from the body, to prevent cancer from coming back at a later time. 

Your doctor and cancer care team might set other goals  with you, depending on your diagnosis and cancer stage. These goals include:

  • Managing symptoms such as pain
  • Improving your nutrition and lifestyle habits
  • Exercising to stay active and feel good
  • Managing common conditions that may accompany cancer, such as depression, anxiety or insomnia

5. What are my chances for survival based on my diagnosis and cancer stage?

Although it can be difficult to talk to your doctor about your chances of survival, know that it’s important to find out your prognosis. 

“Oncologists usually estimate a patient’s chances of being cured, to what extent a person will recover, and their life expectancy by reviewing studies of people with a similar cancer diagnosis,” says Dr. Skorupa. 

It’s normal to feel afraid about your cancer diagnosis and life expectancy. However, living with a cancer diagnosis underscores the importance of living your life to its fullest and realizing how precious life is, regardless of your condition and prognosis.

Although learning that you have cancer is a stressful and frightening experience, you can take control of your health and make informed decisions about your treatment. Always have an honest and open discussion with your doctor about all aspects of your diagnosis. Share your questions and concerns with your doctor to help ease your mind about your cancer and treatment plan. If you already have a cancer diagnosis and would like to learn more about our team and our cancer services, schedule an appointment with one of our board-certified oncologists today. 

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