Important questions to ask after a cancer diagnosis

Each year, more than a million Americans will receive a cancer diagnosis.  Whether it is a complete surprise or already expected, hearing the words “You have cancer” can leave anyone shell-shocked and unable to focus on the rest of what the doctor may be saying.

After the initial phase of disbelief, this is when a patient needs to take control and begin asking their doctor important questions. By facing this challenge straight on and not sticking their head in the sand,  this can empower a person to have a frank talk with their healthcare team helping them to prepare for the battle ahead. 

When a cancer patient is ready to ask questions, another family member or friend should be there at the same time to jot down notes to help remember what has been said.  Here are important questions all cancer patients should ask when staring cancer in the face:

·Is my cancer treatable?

This is most likely the first question to ask.  Listen to what the doctor says as the aggressiveness of different types of cancer can vary widely. Knowing statistics on survival and recurrence for the specific type of cancer one has can be helpful in making treatment and other decisions. 

·What kind of cancer do I have – what is the location and has it spread?

Depending on the answers to these questions will determine the treatment plan on how to move forward. An oncologist will be the doctor who will oversee all aspects of treatment including any surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and medications needed.

·What stage is my cancer?

Staging of cancer is the process of finding out how much cancer is in a person’s body and where it is located.  Staging of cancer ranges from stage 0 to stage 4. The purpose of staging is to determine the extent of the disease, to predict a person’s prognosis, and to develop a treatment strategy on how to beat it back. 

·Should I change my diet and exercise routine?

Part of being successful at conquering cancer is to eat a healthy diet and if possible, to maintain a regular exercise routine. Most doctors wholeheartedly encourage this but do ask if there is any special diet or dietary changes to make that can improve survivability. Sometimes a doctor may prescribe a certain diet to avoid potential drug interactions, to keep up strength during chemotherapy or radiation treatments or suggest foods to avoid that could cause digestive issues. Exercise is another important component in treating cancer. It has been found to increase energy, enhance the immune system, decrease pain, and overall increase quality of life.  Be careful however, not to overdo it in order to prevent any injuries that could delay treatment.

·Is it okay to use vitamin/mineral supplements?

Most oncologists recommend to rely on eating nutrient-dense foods and not to rely on using a vitamin/mineral supplement. Some high-dose supplements can actually reduce the effectiveness of cancer treatment or possibly feed the cancer. Always inquire with the doctor on their opinion before using any type of supplements which also includes the use of herbal supplements.

·What about using alternative medical treatments?

Alternative medical treatments would include acupuncture, massage therapy, meditation, and yoga – none of these have been proven to cure cancer but they are useful at helping to reduce pain, anxiety, stress, and improving a person’s outlook on life.

·Where can I get a second opinion?

In the case of something as serious as cancer, it is always best to get a second opinion. A doctor who is confident and professional should not be offended by being asked this question. Most doctors will often suggest it to begin with and all cancer patients should inquire of another medical professional’s advice in order to get the optimal treatment they deserve.

·Should I participate in any clinical trials or investigative treatments?

This is a good question to ask after some time has passed to absorb the fact of being a cancer patient. Cancer is complex and the understanding of it is constantly changing with new forms of treatment constantly being studied. Not all cancer patients are good candidates for this type of study and it’s important to know there can be both positive and negative outcomes to participating in this research. But talking it through with a healthcare provider can give a person a good idea if this is something they should do or not.

·What cancer support services are available?

A cancer diagnosis means many changes. From dealing with the emotional, physical, and financial aspects associated with it, many cancer patients need help and guidance on what services are out there to help them and their families deal with the challenges that lie ahead.  By taking advantage of support services, this can greatly lighten the load for all involved leading to reduced feelings of stress and a feeling of being more in control.