Cancer treatment typically requires a team of health care professionals, including doctors, nurses, and other staff who help take care of you before, during, and after treatment. Throughout the process, you will have questions and look to your health care team to provide answers. Try to choose one doctor to be your go-to for all your questions, ideally the doctor you see most often and feel at ease with. Here are some tips on how to talk with your health care team and get the support you need.
People rely on their health care team to provide different kinds of support during their cancer journey.
Talking to Your Health Care Team
Work on establishing good communication with your doctor and health care team. When you go to your appointments, you might want to:
- Bring a friend or family member with you.
- Write down what your doctor says.
- Ask if you can record your conversations.
Watch more videos from cancer survivors about communicating with the health care team about managing symptoms and treatment side effects.
Build a Relationship
- Try to develop a comfort level and feel at ease with your doctor.
- Take the time to ask your questions and make your concerns known.
- Make sure your doctor takes time to answer your questions and listen to your concerns.
- Let your health care team know what you expect from them.
Decide How Much Information You Want
- Figure out how much information you want to know about your illness and treatment. Some people want to discuss everything, from the medical details of their illness to the pros and cons of all treatment options. Others prefer smaller amounts of information and simple instructions. They feel overwhelmed by the details and prefer to leave most decisions to their health care team.
- Let your doctor know how much, or how little, you want to know.
- Write down any questions you have for your doctor in between your appointments. Learn about common questions you may want to ask.
- Remember that nurses and other members of your health care team may be able to answer some of your questions.
- Write down any instructions your doctor or health care team members give you and follow them exactly.
Consider a Second Opinion
- Feel free to ask for a second opinion on your treatment options. Many patients request a second opinion, and most doctors are okay with the request. You can either ask your doctor to give you a referral, or you might prefer to research another doctor yourself to provide a second opinion.
- Ask your doctor to share your medical records, x-rays, and test results with the new doctor. Learn more.
Important Questions to Ask
Be sure to ask questions about your diagnosis, treatment, and anything related.
- Ask your health care team about your diagnosis.
- What kind of cancer is it?
- How serious is my illness?
- Is it spreading?
- Ask your health care team about your treatment options.
- What are my options for treating my cancer?
- What are the pros and cons of each treatment?
- What are my chances of recovery?
- Ask your health care team about treatment clinical trials.
- Should I take part in a clinical trial?
- What are the pros and cons of participating?
- How will we know if it is working?
- Ask your health care team about next steps after you finish treatment.
- When will I feel like myself again?
- Should I expect any long-term effects on my overall health?
- How often will I need to come in for follow-up visits?
Important Information to Have
Make sure you receive the following information from your health care providers:
- Copy of your pathology report from any biopsy or surgery
- Copy of your results from imaging or lab tests
- Copy of your operative report, if you had surgery
- Copy of your hospital discharge summary
- Final summary of your radiation dose and field
- List of all your drugs, drug doses, and when you took them
- Follow-up plan for after treatment ends
After Treatment Ends
The end of treatment doesn’t mean the end of working with your cancer health care team—you may continue to see these providers for follow-up care. You may also return to seeing a primary care provider. Find out what you need to know about getting health care after treatment.
Create a follow-up care plan with your health care team to receive regular medical checkups and keep an open line of communication. Not only does follow-up care increase the odds of spotting a recurrence as early as possible, but it also helps monitor for any continuing problems that may occur due to treatment, and detect health issues that may develop down the road such as new cancers.
Different types of cancers and treatments can require different follow-up schedules. In general, follow-up appointments occur every 3 to 4 months during the first 2 to 3 years after treatment. After that, your follow-up visits may be once or twice a year. Follow-up care includes regular medical checkups that can involve:
- Imaging procedures (CT, MRI scans, etc.)
- Blood work
- Other lab tests
What to Ask Your Doctor
Be prepared with questions for your health care team. During your first follow-up appointment, you may want to ask the following questions:
- What kinds of tests will you need? And how often are they needed?
- What are the long-term side effects of treatment?
- What are the warning signs that cancer may be coming back? What should you do if you have these signs?
- What are the best ways to manage your health and well-being?
What to Tell Your Doctor
Don’t be afraid to tell your doctor about any changes in your health, even if they seem small. During your follow-up appointments, you should tell your doctor about:
- Symptoms that you think are unusual or may indicate that cancer has returned.
- Pain that is new or bothering you.
- Physical problems that are interfering with your daily life.
- Emotional problems that you are experiencing.
- Medicines or vitamins, including over-the-counter supplements that you are using.
- Changes in your family medical history.
Keep Copies of Your Medical Records
You should always keep copies of your medical records in order to prevent the loss of any important information, as you may not see the same doctor for your follow-up care as you did for treatment. Your medical records should include, but are not limited to:
- The type of cancer(s) you were treated for
- The date(s) of your diagnosis
- Key lab reports, pathology reports, and x-ray reports
- Details of all cancer treatments, including dates, location where treatment was received, names and doses of all drugs, sites and total amounts of radiation therapy, etc.
- Details of any complications that occurred during and after treatment
- Contact information for any health care providers involved in treatment and follow-up care
Other Things to Consider
- Some people see the same doctor for follow-up care as they did for treatment. In some cases, it is not practical to travel to see an oncologist for follow-up appointments. No matter what, your follow-up care doctor should be someone that you feel comfortable with.
- You may want to bring a family member or friend with you to your follow-up appointments for support and to help you think of and remember any questions you want to ask.
- It can be useful to bring a pen and paper or a voice recorder to take notes on advice from your doctor.
Recurrences are not always detected during follow-up visits, so it is important that you are watching for any changes in your health and that you report them to your doctor immediately.