Being educated and informed will help you make the best decisions about your cancer treatment. Get all the information you can as early as possible concerning your evaluation, treatment, and possible side effects. The sooner you know about side effects and possible treatments, the more likely you are to protect yourself against them, or manage them more effectively.
Your doctor and nurse are your best sources of information, but you must remember to ask questions. There is no such thing as a dumb question. Don’t be afraid to ask anything that is on your mind. To make the most of your opportunities to learn from your health care providers, read as much as you can and make a list of questions before each appointment. Also, ask family, friends, and your support team to help you remember the questions. These approaches will help you talk more effectively with your doctor or nurse. Finally, you or your caregiver should consider taking notes during your visit to ensure you remember what you learned.
The following are some questions, grouped by topic, which you may wish to ask your nurse or physician:
• Do you typically treat patients with my diagnosis?
• What stage is my cancer?
• Is there anything unique about my cancer that makes my prognosis better or worse?
• Should I get a second opinion?
• What is the goal of treatment?
• To cure my cancer or stop it from growing?
• What are my treatment options?
• How can each treatment option help me achieve my goal of therapy?
• What risks or potential side effects are associated with each treatment?
• What research studies (“clinical trials”) are available?
• Are there any clinical trials that are right for me?
• How long will I receive treatment, how often, and where?
• How will it be given?
• How will I know if the treatment is working?
• How might a disruption in my chemotherapy dose or timing affect my results?
• How and when will I be able to tell whether the treatment is working?
• What are the names of all the drugs I will be taking?
• Can I talk with another of your patients who has received this treatment?
• Are there any resources or Web sites you recommend for more information?
• What types of lab tests will I need?
• Will I need x-rays and scans?
• Can you explain the results of my complete blood count (CBC)?
• Are there tests for the genetic make-up of my cancer?
• Will I benefit from having my cancer evaluated for its genetic make-up?
• How frequently will I get the tests?
Side Effects of Treatment
• What possible side effects should I prepare for?
• When might they start?
• Will they get better or worse as my treatment goes along?
• How can I prepare for them or lessen their impact?
• Are there treatments that can help relieve the side effects? What are they? Do you usually recommend or prescribe them?
• Which risks are most serious?
• Will I require blood transfusions? Why?
• How can I best monitor myself for complications related to either my disease or my treatment?
Protecting Against Infection
• Will my type of chemotherapy put me at risk for a low white blood cell count and infection?
• Can I help protect myself against infection right from the start of chemotherapy, instead of waiting until problems develop?
• Am I at special risk for infection?
• What are the signs of infection?
• How serious is an infection?
• How long will I be at risk for infection?
• What should I do if I have a fever?
• How are infections treated?
• How will my cancer treatment affect my usual activities?
• Will I be able to work?
• Will I need to stay in the hospital?
• Will I need someone to help me at home?
• Will I need help taking care of my kids?
• Are there any activities I should avoid during my chemotherapy?
What to Expect After Treatment
• What happens after I complete my treatment?
• How can I best continue to monitor myself for complications related to either my disease or my treatment?
• What kind of lab tests will I need?
• How frequently should I get those lab tests?
• What types of x-rays and scans will I need?
• How often do I need to come in for checkups?
• When will you know if I am cured?
• What happens if my disease comes back?
Next Section: A Word about Clinical Trials »
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