Questions to Ask Your Doctor about Advanced Cancer

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Communication is important throughout cancer care. If you learn that you have advanced cancer, you will have choices to make about your care and what steps you need to take. For many, it’s hard to ask questions about what these steps should be. Some patients with advanced cancer benefit from active treatment, while others do not. 

Whether you’ve just been diagnosed, or the standard treatment isn’t working, it's important to ask your health care team what to expect in the future. Studies show that patients who have these discussions with their doctor have a better quality of life than those who don’t.

You can hope for the best while still being informed about your choices. The more information you have, the better decisions you and your loved ones can make about how you want to move forward with your care. When you meet with your doctor, consider asking some of the following questions:

Questions about Your Cancer

  • What does “advanced cancer” mean for me?
  • How long can I live with my advanced cancer?
  • Are there tests I should have now to better understand the extent of my cancer?

Questions about Treatment Choices

  • What’s the best we can hope for by trying another treatment? What’s the goal?
  • What are my treatment choices? Which do you recommend for me and why?
  • Is this treatment plan meant to help side effects, slow the growth of my cancer, or both?
  • Is there a chance that a new treatment will be found while we try the old one?
  • Would a clinical trial be right for me?
  • What kind of care will I receive to keep me comfortable if I decide not to have active treatment for my cancer?

Questions about Symptoms and Side Effects

  • What are the possible side effects and other downsides of this treatment? How likely are they?
  • How can I manage the symptoms of my advanced cancer or the side effects of its treatment?
  • Can you refer me to a palliative care specialist to help me cope with my side effects?

Questions about Making the Transition from Cancer Treatment to Hospice Care

  • How do I decide whether to continue or stop cancer treatment?
  • When should I consider having hospice care?
  • How can I make sure I have the best quality of life possible – that I am comfortable and free of pain?
  • Can I have hospice care in my home, or do I have to go to a special facility?
  • How can I get help with financial and legal issues (for example, paying for hospice care or preparing a will or an advance directive)?
  • How can I get help with my spiritual needs?

Talking about these questions may help you decide whether to continue or to begin active treatment. Tell your health care team exactly what you want to know, and how much you can take in. If possible, it's best to involve your loved ones in this process. It will help you figure out your needs and the needs of others close to you.