If you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, here are questions to ask

Understanding your disease and how it’s treated is important, so don’t be shy about asking straightforward questions about your oncologist’s subspecialty, experience and access to clinical trials.

Being ready with questions to ask your oncologist can help put you back in control after hearing the scary news of a cancer diagnosis.

Understanding your disease and how it’s treated is important, so don’t be shy about asking straightforward questions about your oncologist’s subspecialty, experience and access to clinical trials. Treating cancer takes time and many appointments — and you may not be able to drive yourself all the time — so understanding how convenient your oncologist can make your treatment is important.

To get started, here are some questions to ask your oncologist. Feel free to take notes, and if there is anything you don’t understand — stop the conversation and ask for an explanation.

What kind of cancer do I have, exactly where is it located and how much experience do you have treating it?

Advancements in cancer treatment have spawned a number of subspecialties both in the types of cancer and the treatment approaches.

Understanding what type of cancer you have, where it is in your body and your oncologist’s experience treating your type of cancer specifically is important.

Has the cancer spread from where it started?

You may have heard the word “metastasize” before. This refers to cancer that has spread from its initial location to other parts of the body. The first cancer is considered the “primary” cancer. Places affected by its spread are “secondary” cancers.

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Should I get a second opinion?

Yes. Your oncologist won’t be offended. The goal is to get you the best care available, and multiple viewpoints can only help.

Also ask if your oncology provider holds “tumor boards” or multidisciplinary consultations. These are built-in processes where every cancer patient’s case is reviewed, analyzed, debated and discussed by numerous specialists. Similar to a second opinion, the result is a treatment plan that benefits from collaboration among a team of physicians and other providers.

How easily can I get an appointment, and how far away will it be?

Cancer disrupts your life and those closest to you. Getting an appointment — even the same day if you’ve been newly diagnosed — and setting up a treatment routine at a location that’s easier for you and others who are helping you can make it easier.

What stage is the cancer?

Cancer can be categorized by stages to describe the size and how far, if at all, it has spread.

  • Stage 0 refers to cancer that hasn’t spread to nearby tissues and often is highly curable.
  • Stage 1 cancer is typically a small cancer that may be affecting nearby tissues, but hasn’t reached lymph nodes or other parts of the body.
  • Stage 2 cancer is larger or may have spread to a few nearby lymph nodes.
  • Stage 3 cancers are larger tumors that have spread more extensively.
  • Stage 4 refers to cancers that have spread to other parts of the body.

Should I think about taking part in a clinical trial? Do you offer any for my diagnosis?

Clinical trials give patients the opportunity to take part in experimental treatments. A cancer program with a history of conducting clinical trials is also a sign of deep experience with the newest Food and Drug Administration-approved treatment options.

What support services do you offer?

Cancer doesn’t just happen to you or one part of your body. If affects how you feel, your outlook and that of those close to you. It’s often referred to as a journey, and it’s a journey that requires support.

Some oncology providers devote nurses to helping patients find their way through a new world of complex insurance filings, new treatment options and simply arranging transportation to and from doctors’ appointments.

What are my treatment options?

Not all oncology providers have access to the same treatments. Whether your care plan includes surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy or other approaches to treating cancer, you should ask about your treatment options all along the treatment journey.

What’s the goal of my treatment?

Making sure you and your oncologist share the same goal for your treatment will make for a smoother course of action and a freer exchange of information about your care.

What would I do if I have a problem after hours?

Ask about extended hours and same-day appointments to get treatment for side effects of your cancer treatment.

Norton Cancer Institute locations downtown and in St. Matthews operate Prompt Care Clinics that are open until 8 p.m. on weekdays to get treatment quickly without an emergency room visit.

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