Questions to ask your healthcare team

Appointments and other opportunities to speak with your healthcare team can be short. It is good to be prepared.

It is okay to ask lots of questions, or to ask the same questions more than once. The important thing is that you understand what your healthcare professional is telling you.

You might have questions about any tests you need to have. You should be given information about the tests, including written information. This should be easy to understand and explain everything you want to know.

When you are making decisions about treatment, it is very important that you understand all the information you are given. You can ask questions about anything you do not understand.

The type of questions you have are likely to change depending on what stage of treatment you are in. We have lots of suggestions for questions you could ask below.

Your cancer specialist or clinical nurse specialist will answer any questions you have. They should also offer you some written information about the treatment that you can take home.

Questions about having tests

Your GP should refer you to a doctor who specialises in diagnosing and treating the type of cancer you have. This may be a surgeon, a cancer specialist (oncologist) or another type of specialist, such as a doctor specialising in blood conditions (haematologist). You can ask them about their area of expertise.

Although tests can be uncomfortable, the healthcare staff looking after you should make you feel as comfortable as possible. You should be given information about the tests, including written information. This should be easy to understand and explain everything you want to know.

You will usually be given an appointment to come back and see your specialist, so that they can explain the results of your tests. They should use clear language and give you enough time to ask questions.

You can also ask for a key worker or clinical nurse specialist to be there to help, although there is not always a specialist nurse for every situation. You can also bring someone with you when your diagnosis and treatment options are being discussed.

Here are some possible questions you could ask about being referred for tests:

  • Why are you referring me to a specialist?
  • Is the doctor I will be seeing a cancer specialist?
  • When will I be seen? Are you referring me as urgent or non-urgent?
  • When will I have the tests?
  • What are the tests for and what will they involve?
  • Will the person doing the test look after me while it is being done? Will they tell me what to expect?
  • Who will give me the results and when?


Questions after diagnosis

Asking questions during and after your diagnosis can make it easier to understand what is happening and why.

Being told you need to see a specialist for tests can be a shock. It can often be some time before your appointment, so you might feel worried.

Your healthcare team will tell you how to prepare for your tests and what is involved. They will also explain any results to you.

But you might want to ask some extra questions. Someone should be available after your first appointment to discuss your diagnosis and how it may affect you. This is usually a clinical nurse specialist.

If you think of questions later, you may also find it helpful to speak to someone at your nearest Macmillan cancer information and support centre. You can also call our cancer support specialists on 0808 808 00 00 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 8pm).

You may want to ask questions about:

  • being referred for tests for cancer
  • having tests and getting the results
  • getting more information about your cancer diagnosis
  • any practical issues, such as work and finances.

You are likely to have many different feelings during this time. If you need emotional support, help is available. Your GP, cancer specialist or clinical nurse specialist will be able to help you find the support you need. You can also call our cancer support specialists on 0808 808 00 00.

Here are some suggestions about the types of questions you could ask after your diagnosis.

About your diagnosis

  • Where did the cancer start?
  • What is a primary cancer?
  • What is a secondary cancer?
  • What is the stage of the cancer? (This tells you how advanced it is).
  • What is the grade of the cancer? (This gives an idea of how quickly it is growing).
  • What are the average survival rates for this type of cancer, and what might this mean in my case?

Getting more information

  • Who can I contact if I think of questions later? Can I see someone in person?
  • Will someone tell my GP about the diagnosis? How quickly will this happen?
  • Can I ask for a second opinion about my diagnosis or the plan for my treatment?
  • Who can I talk to about how I am feeling?
  • Who can I ask about practical issues?

We have more suggested questions about getting practical and financial support (see ‘Questions about help and support’ below).


Questions about treatment

You can ask your healthcare team any questions you have before, during and after your treatment.

When you are making decisions about treatments, it is very important that you understand all the information you are given. You can ask questions about anything you do not understand.

The type of questions you have are likely to change depending on what stage of treatment you are in.

Remember that you can continue to ask your healthcare team questions during your treatment. Your cancer specialist or clinical nurse specialist will answer any questions you have. They should also offer you some written information about the treatment that you can take home.

Here are some suggestions about the types of questions you could ask about treatment.

Your treatment options

  • What treatment or treatments do you recommend for me?
  • What is the aim of my treatment?
  • Are there any other treatments that might work just as well?
  • What are the benefits and risks of each treatment option?
  • What might the side effects of each option be?
  • Would there be different treatment options if I were treated privately?

Taking part in a clinical trial

  • Is there a clinical trial I can take part in?
  • What does taking part in a clinical trial mean?
  • What sort of trial am I being offered?
  • Why is the trial taking place?
  • How does taking part in a trial change my treatment options?

Choosing treatment

  • How can I choose between the treatments you have offered me?
  • Can I change my mind after I have started my treatment?
  • Can I get a second opinion?
  • Can you suggest a consultant who could offer a second opinion?

Choosing not to have treatment

  • Can I choose not to have any treatment?
  • If I choose not to have treatment, what is likely to happen?
  • If I choose not to have treatment now, could I have treatment later?
  • If I was able to have treatment later, would the aim of the treatment be the same?

Where to have your treatment

  • Can I choose where I am treated?
  • Can I be treated privately?
  • Will I have all my treatment at this hospital or will I have to travel?
  • How long will I need to stay in hospital for?
  • Can I have my treatment at home, or closer to home?
  • Is there any help or support that I can have at home?

What treatment will involve

  • How soon will the treatment start?
  • How long will the treatment last?
  • How often will I have my treatment?
  • If I have chemotherapy, will I have tablets, injections or drips?
  • If I need to take tablets at home, how should I handle and store these medicines? What will happen if I forget to take a dose?
  • If I need radiotherapy, what will this involve?
  • Can I have a family member or friend with me while I am having the treatment?
  • If I need surgery, what will this involve?
  • How long will I need to be in hospital for?
  • How long is it likely to take for me to recover?

How treatment might affect you

  • What does this treatment do?
  • Do I need to change my lifestyle while having this treatment?
  • Can I drink alcohol?
  • Do I need to change what I eat?
  • Can I exercise regularly?
  • Will the treatment affect my fertility or sex life?
  • Can I continue working while I am having treatment?

How well treatment is working

  • How effective is my treatment likely to be?
  • How and when will I know if the treatment has worked?
  • How will the doctors know if the treatment is working?
  • Will I need to have any more tests?
  • If my treatment is delayed, will this make a difference?

Side effects

  • What are the possible side effects?
  • How long are side effects likely to continue for?
  • Will side effects eventually go away, or might some be permanent?
  • How will I be monitored for side effects during and after treatment?
  • What should I do if I have side effects?
  • What can be done to reduce side effects and how can they be controlled?
  • Are there any complementary therapies that might help?
  • If I am having lots of side effects, can I reduce or completely stop my treatment?
  • What would happen if I decided to stop my treatment at any point?

During treatment

  • Who will be looking after me while I have my treatment?
  • Will any religious or spiritual wishes I have be met?
  • Who should I contact if I have any problems?
  • How long should I wait before contacting someone?
  • Who should I contact in an emergency or out of hours?
  • When will I next see my oncologist or specialist nurse?

After treatment

  • What happens when treatment finishes?
  • How can I expect to feel after the treatment?
  • How long might it take until I feel back to normal?
  • What might the long-term effects of cancer and its treatment be?
  • Who do I contact if I have a problem in-between follow-up appointments?

Worries about cancer coming back

  • How will I be checked to see if the cancer has come back?
  • I am worried about the cancer coming back. Who can I speak to?
  • How can I reduce the risk of the cancer coming back?
  • How can I stay healthy after treatment finishes?

If you do not feel comfortable with the treatment your healthcare team are offering you, ask why they feel it is the appropriate treatment. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Colin

Making the decisions about treatment was so hard. I’d suggest talking about it as much as you can, and ask all your questions no matter how silly you think they are.

Trish

Make sure you understand everything you are told, and if not, ask again.

Christine


Questions about help and support

You should be given information about support groups in your area. You can also find out about local groups by calling us on 0808 808 00 00

You can also share your experiences and discuss your feelings with other people in your situation on our Online Community.

Here are some questions that could help you get support during treatment, including any practical or financial help you need.

Help with money worries

Emotional support

  • How can I get help with how I am feeling?
  • Are there any support groups in my area?
  • Is there any psychological support or counselling available?

Work

  • Will I be able to continue working?
  • How much time will I need to take off work?
  • Where can I get support with work-related issues?
  • Who can I speak to about going back to work once treatment finishes?

Family

  • What help is available for my family?
  • Will I still be able to care for my children?

Travel

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