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Questions a cancer patient should ask at their first clinic appointment

Feeling overwhelmed and anxious are common when a patient is first diagnosed with cancer.

Being diagnosed with cancer can be overwhelming and cause great anxiety. While dealing with the emotional and mental impact of a cancer diagnosis, it can be difficult to navigate the complex decision-making needed when starting cancer treatment. 

Patients may forget to ask relevant questions or only remember them after leaving the clinic. It can be helpful for newly-diagnosed patients to plan ahead and prepare a list of questions to bring to their next appointment with the doctor. 

Writing down the questions you have about your condition and care plan before your medical appointment can be helpful. 

Understanding your treatment
Each person’s cancer journey is unique. Some patients will only need one type of treatment, while others require a combination of treatments such as chemotherapy, surgery, radiation therapy, and immunotherapy. A discussion of the benefits and risks, and how each treatment is expected to help you, is essential in deciding what is right for you.

Some questions to ask:
  • What are the different types of treatment options available? 
  • How often will I have the treatment? How long will they last?  
  • How should I prepare for treatment?
  • Why am I being prescribed multiple treatments for my cancer? How will each treatment help me?
  • What is the goal of treatment? Can I expect to be cured?

What can you expect while going through treatment
Speaking with your oncologist on what to expect will help you to better manage changing needs and make the necessary arrangements before you begin treatment. This can help you prepare for the changes in your daily life and effectively deal with potential side effects. 

Some questions to ask:
  • What are some common side effects of treatment? What should I do to manage them?      
  • Can I call my doctor/ medical team if I have any questions? What do I do if I experience bad side effects after clinic hours or have an emergency?       
  • What can I do to stay as healthy as possible before, during and after treatment?
  • What sort of food should I consume during treatment? Is there anything I should avoid? 
  • How will undergoing treatment affect my life? 
    • Can I still go to work / school?
    • Can I still exercise? 
    • Will my fertility be affected by the cancer treatment? If so, is there anything I can do to try to preserve my fertility?

Follow-up care
It is important to understand the importance of follow-up care and surveillance, and how skipping or delaying a follow-up appointment may negatively impact your cancer treatment outcomes.

Some questions to ask:
  • What is the purpose of follow-up visits and what will happen during those visits?
  • How should I prepare for my follow-up visits?
  • Can I make an earlier appointment to see my doctor if I have any health concerns?

How do I pay for my treatment and care?
Some patients may experience financial strain or burden of cancer treatment. Undergoing treatment may require some patients to put their jobs on hold while shouldering the expense of medication, treatment and daily living. Patients should be aware of the resources and help available for those facing financial difficulties.

Some questions to ask:
  • How much does each type of treatment cost? 
  • Will my medical insurance / MediSave / MediShield Life / MediFund cover my medical bills? 
  • Who can I speak to if I have difficulty paying for the recommended treatment? 

Support services available   
Psychosocial and emotional concerns that may arise from the cancer diagnosis include the loss of self-esteem, negative body image, fear of relapse and depression. Finding out what support services are accessible and available will get you and your family the supportive care you need.  

Some questions to ask:
  • What support services are available for my family and me as I go through my cancer journey?    
  • Are my family members at risk of contracting cancer? How do we check? What can we do to reduce the risk? 

If your doctor recommends that you join a clinical trial
Some patients may be advised by their treating doctor to join a clinical trial for a new cancer treatment.  Questions that help you understand what clinical trials are and where to get information, might be helpful.

Some questions to ask:
  • What are clinical trials? 
  • Am I eligible for any ongoing clinical trial? What is the benefit to me?      
  • How and where can I learn more about clinical trials?
  • What would I need to do if I’m enrolled on a clinical trial? 

Always check with your doctor if you have any questions or doubts. 

A cancer diagnosis is life-changing, but you do not have to walk the journey alone. Your treating doctor and the healthcare team and will advise on the best treatment plan. You may also wish to have a family member accompany you to your medical appointments - to take notes and provide support.

It is also important for patients and caregivers to be mindful and careful of what they read online to prevent unnecessary anxiety, worry and misinformation. It is best to refer to trusted sources of information and clarify any doubts with your treating doctor.