Talking to your doctor


As a patient you have the right to ask questions about your health. Every time you talk with a doctor, nurse, or funder you have the right to ask questions regarding you healthcare.

It’s often a good idea to write down your questions beforehand, that way you won’t forget to discuss anything and make sure you understand what the person is telling you. If you don’t, ask them to clarify.

The questions you ask can be as simple as:

Do you know what is wrong with me?
What do we do next?

A List of Questions

The moment you or a loved one is diagnosed with cancer you should automatically be handed a degree on question asking! Here are a few situations you may need to ask questions and the types of questions you should ask.

Your healthcare team wants to give you as much information as you need. You needn‘t feel rushed or embarrassed if you don't understand something.


When you don’t understand something try saying “Please would you explain that to me one more time, this is all very new to me?”

Here are a few situation and questions you can ask: 

On being diagnosed
  1. What is the primary site of the cancer? Where is the cancer located?
  2. How aggressive is the cancer?
  3. What stage is it in? How does the stage of the cancer influence the treatment options?
  4. How was the diagnosis made? Can you explain what the mammogram(s), sonogram(s), and biopsy report indicate?
  5. Is there anything unique about my cancer that makes my prognosis better or worse?
  6. How much is known about the type of cancer that I have?
  7. Will further tests be needed to determine my treatment options?
  8. Do you typically treat patients with my diagnosis? What have been the results of this treatment, in your experience?
  9. Do you have any materials or suggested reading on my type of cancer?
  10. How can I best contact you if I have a question?

For seeking a second opinion

  1. Do you agree with the first diagnosis?
  2. If not, what is your diagnosis and why is it different?
  3. What treatment would you suggest?

When deciding what treatment to have

  1. What are my treatment options? What treatment(s) do you suggest?
  2. Why do you favour this treatment over others?
  3. What are the names of all the drugs I will be taking?
  4. What risks or potential side effects are associated with each treatment?
  5. What is the goal of treatment? Is it to completely eradicate the tumor, to reduce the size of the tumor, to alleviate symptoms?
  6. How often must I receive treatment? How will I feel after treatment?
  7. Are there any experimental treatments I might consider?
  8. Would a clinical trial be appropriate for me?
  9. Can I continue working? How will treatment affect my daily life?
  10. What will happen if I choose not to have treatment?
  11. What are the financial costs, and will my insurance/ public hospital cover this recommended treatment?
  12. May I talk to one of your patients who has received this treatment?
  13. I would like to weigh up all my options regarding my treatment; can you recommend someone who could provide a second opinion?
  14. Can you recommend any resources that I can read to learn more about this treatment?
  15. How can I best contact you if I have any questions?
  16. How much time should I take to make a decision about treatment?

On starting and during your treatment

  1. How many different doctors will be involved in my treatment?
  2. Whom should I contact with questions about appointments, billing, etc.?
  3. Who will coordinate my treatment plan if different facilities or hospital departments are involved?
  4. Can family members be present with me during treatment?
  5. Will I be able to drive/travel afterward?
  6. Will it be necessary for someone to stay with me?
  7. Is the proposed treatment covered by my insurance plan? Will I be required to make any payments up-front?
  8. What possible side effects should I prepare for? How can I manage the side effects of treatment? Are there treatments that can help relieve the side effects?  What are they? 
  9. Are there any specific signs or symptoms I should watch for following treatment?
  10. Should I continue to take my prescription medications during treatment?
  11. Are there any dietary restrictions during treatment?
  12. Are lifestyle modifications necessary or recommended?
  13. How will a disruption in my treatment or its timing affect my results?
  14. How will I know if the treatment is working? How long will it take to see any results?
  15. Are there patient support groups or support services available?
  16. How soon can I return to normal activities after treatment?
  17. How can I best contact you if I have a question?
  18. What should I do in case of an emergency medical situation?

After completing your treatment

  1. What happens after I complete my treatment?
  2. How can I best continue to monitor myself for complications related to either my disease or my treatment? How often do I need to come in for checkups?
  3. What kind of lab tests will I need? How frequently should I get those lab tests?
  4. When will you know if I am cured?
  5. What happens if my disease comes back?



  • When visiting your doctor make a list or take a buddy! It helps to have another person listen to what is said and think of questions to ask.
  • Ask questions and don’t leave with anything unanswered. If you don’t understand something, ask for it to be re-explained
  • You own your medical information- know where it is, who sees it and how you can access it.
  • Create clear written records of ALL interactions with medical aids, healthcare providers with as much information as possible. If it isn’t written down it’s as if it never happened!
  • Ask your medical aid/ healthcare provider for their responses in writing and insist on an explanation of anything you don’t understand.
  • Take your time. Do not consent to anything without having time to consider all your options. Seek a second opinion – it’s your right!
  • When you are diagnosed, give written consent to someone, you trust, to act on your behalf.

 Information provided by Campaigning for Cancer

- (Health24, December 2011)

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