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10 Questions You Shouldn’t Be Afraid to Ask About Your Cancer Diagnosis

Publication: Austin Medical Times, Houston Medical Times

No questions should be off limits when it comes to your health, yet some topics are simply hard to broach. The truth is your doctors want you to ask the tough questions, even when the answers may be difficult to hear. Below are 10 questions your oncologist wants you to feel empowered to ask so you can receive the education and support you need.

What caused my cancer? 
Fear of the unknown can be one of the most challenging aspects of a cancer diagnosis. Some patients experience feelings of guilt or anxiety about something they did, or did not do, that may have led to developing cancer. In reality, many cancers are unpreventable. 

Does my diagnosis mean my family is at an increased risk for cancer? 
According to the American Cancer Society, only about 5 to 10 percent of all cancers result directly from gene defects inherited from a parent. Family members do need to be vigilant about knowing their family history, including the type and age a family member was diagnosed, because they may need to start screenings earlier. 

How will you choose the right treatment plan for me? 
Every form of cancer is unique, and no single treatment is right for everyone. Your cancer treatment plan is created specifically for you and your disease – and you play an integral role in developing that plan. 

Is my cancer curable? 
Interestingly, this is one of the least asked questions. Your oncologist wants to have an open, honest conversation with you and your loved ones about your diagnosis, treatment, and your path forward. 

Will this treatment increase my chances of survival or improve my quality of life? 
Just as every patient’s cancer treatment is unique, treatment impacts everyone differently. Discuss goals for your treatment, managing side effects, and expectations for short- and long-term treatment results. 

How will my diagnosis and treatment impact my sex life? 
It is perfectly natural to be concerned about how cancer and treatment will impact intimacy. The long-term effects of treatment can change libido and sexual function, and affect fertility, all of which can impact relationships. It’s important to have conversations about the effects and how to address them. 

Should I seek a second opinion? 
Despite misconceptions, getting a second opinion is not considered ‘bad etiquette’. It’s a normal part of a cancer diagnosis.

How can you help ease my greatest fear? 
Whether it’s fear of being in pain, fear of what will happen to your family, or fear of dying, communicating your fears will help your oncologist alleviate them as best as possible.

Should I participate in clinical trials? 
Many factors will determine if you’re a candidate for a clinical trial, including your age, cancer type and stage, previous treatments, and overall medical history. Curious? Just ask.

What happens if I can no longer speak for myself? 
Advance care planning is the process of outlining your choices about your future medical care. This process offers peace of mind for patients and loved ones, and it also helps your oncologist ensure your values and wishes are at the forefront of your care. 

At Texas Oncology, we believe asking questions is the best way for patients to stay informed about their cancer care. Bring a family member or friend for extra support, take notes, and prepare for honest discussion. You’ll be glad you did. 

Shubhada Shrikhande, M.D., is a medical oncologist at Texas Oncology–Austin North, 12221 Renfert Way, Suite 300, in Austin, Texas.

Sanjay Sethi, M.D., is a medical oncologist at Texas Oncology–Sugar Land, 1350 First Colony Blvd. in Sugar Land, Texas.

This article originally appeared in the July issues of:

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