During your next visit, your doctor may recommend chemotherapy alone or in combination with radiation therapy, hormonal therapy, targeted therapy, or surgery. Your doctor will explain treatment options and why a certain one is recommended. Your doctor may be able to show you statistics (gathered over many years from all over the world) that indicate the advantage of one treatment over other available treatments, or the risk (if any) of not getting treatment.


Once all the relevant information is gathered and reviewed, you’ll probably have another appointment with your doctor and another chance to ask questions. Many people feel better prepared to ask questions at this interview than when they first met their oncologists. For instance, you’ll have had more time to learn about the kind of cancer you’re dealing with, the treatment options available, many of the relevant medical terms and abbreviations used, and the significance of tests. You may also have had the opportunity to talk to other people who’ve gone through a similar treatment. When other questions occur to you, write them down so that you don’t forget to ask about the things that concern you.

Here are some questions you may want to ask your doctor:

• What’s the expected goal of the treatment? Is it to eliminate all cancer cells and prevent their recurrence? Is the goal to slow down the spread of cancer that can’t be totally eliminated in order to achieve a remission (period of time when the cancer is inactive) for as long as possible? Is the goal to relieve the symptoms associated with the cancer (pain, shortness of breath, problems with digestion, and so on)?

• Do I need other kinds of treatments (surgery, radiation therapy, targeted therapy, hormonal treatment, and so on)? Why?

• What are the names of the chemotherapy medications I’ll get?

• How many treatments will I be getting? How often will they be given? How long does each treatment take?

• What side effects can I expect (hair loss, nausea, increased risk of infection, or fatigue)? How can these side effects be prevented? How can they be managed?

• How will the treatment affect my other medical conditions (diabetes, heart disease, lung problems, kidney problems, and so on)?

• How will this treatment affect my sexuality? Fertility? Will these effects be temporary or permanent?

• Will I be able to continue to work? Travel?

• How will I know if the treatment plan is working? What tests will I need and how often?


Excerpt from: THE CHEMOTHERAPY SURVIVAL GUIDE, THIRD EDITION: Everything You Need to Know to Get Through Treatment (New Harbinger Publications)

Author's Bio: 

Judith McKay, RN, OCN, received her degrees from California State University, Hayward, and has been an oncology nurse for more than twenty years. She works at the Alta Bates Comprehensive Cancer Center in Berkeley, CA. McKay is coauthor of When Anger Hurts: Quieting the Storm Within and contributed to the best-seller Self-Esteem.

Tamera Schacher, RN, OCN, MSN, is an oncology-certified nurse and a board-certified family nurse practitioner. For the past five years, she has worked at the Alta Bates Summit Comprehensive Cancer Center.