Oral and Oropharyngeal Cancer: Questions to Ask the Doctor

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 07/2016

ON THIS PAGE: You will find some questions to ask your doctor or other members of your health care team, to help you better understand your diagnosis, treatment plan, and overall care. To see other pages, use the menu.

Talking often with the doctor is important to make informed decisions about your health care. These suggested questions are a starting point to help you learn more about your cancer care and treatment. You are also encouraged to ask additional questions that are important to you. You may want to print this list and bring it to your next appointment, or download Cancer.Net’s free mobile app for an e-list and other interactive tools to manage your care.

Questions to ask after getting a diagnosis

  • What type of oral or oropharyngeal cancer do I have? Where exactly is it located?

  • Can you explain my pathology report (laboratory test results) to me?

  • What is the stage and grade of the cancer? What does this mean?

Questions to ask about choosing a treatment and managing side effects

  • What are my treatment options?

  • What clinical trials are available for me? Where are they located, and how do I find out more about them?

  • What treatment plan do you recommend? Why?

  • What is the goal of each treatment? Is it to eliminate the cancer, help me feel better, or both?

  • If I am a smoker, will quitting help this treatment work better? Can you help me quit?

  • What are the possible side effects of each treatment option, both in the short term and the long term?

  • What can be done to prevent or treat side effects?

  • Who will be part of my health care team, and what does each member do?

  • Who will be leading my overall treatment?

  • What problems with speech, swallowing, or shoulder motion will likely occur? What rehabilitation services are available?

  • If my treatment will affect my ability to eat the foods I am used to, how will I receive proper nutrition?

  • What type of treatment is recommended?

  • What is the goal of this treatment?

  • How long will it take to give this treatment?

  • What side effects can I expect during treatment? Loss of saliva? Loss of taste? Difficulty swallowing?

  • What are the possible long-term effects of having this treatment?

  • What can be done to relieve the side effects?

  • What is the chance that the cancer will come back? Should I watch for specific signs or symptoms?

  • What long-term side effects or late effects are possible based on the cancer treatment I received?

  • Can you recommend an oncologic dentist who I can see before treatment begins?

  • Can you recommend an oncologic speech pathologist who I can see before treatment begins?

  • Should I see other specialists before treatment? Should I talk with a radiation oncologist, medical oncologist, or a plastic surgeon?

  • Should I get a second opinion?

  • What support services are available to me? To my family?

  • Whom should I call with questions or problems?

Questions to ask about having surgery

  • What type of surgery will I have? Will lymph nodes be removed?

  • How long will the operation take?

  • How long will I be in the hospital?

  • Can you describe what my recovery from surgery will be like?

  • What are the possible long-term effects of having this surgery?

  • Will I need major reconstruction after surgery? If so, how will this affect my ability to speak and eat?

  • Will there be a need for a neck dissection (removal of lymph nodes)? If so, what type of dissection will be done? What does this mean?

  • Will this surgery affect my appearance in any way?

  • How likely is it that I will lose my voice box (larynx)? If this is necessary, what are the options available for voice/speech rehabilitation?

Questions to ask about having radiation therapy

  • What type of treatment is recommended?

  • What is the goal of this treatment?

  • How long will it take to give this treatment?

  • What side effects can I expect during treatment? Loss of saliva? Loss of taste? Difficulty swallowing?

  • What are the possible long-term effects of having this treatment?

  • What can be done to relieve the side effects?

Questions to ask about having chemotherapy or targeted therapy

  • What type of treatment is recommended?

  • What is the goal of this treatment?

  • How long will it take to give this treatment?

  • What side effects can I expect during treatment?

  • What are the possible long-term effects of having this treatment?

  • What can be done to relieve the side effects?

Questions to ask about planning follow-up care

  • What are the chances of developing a secondary cancer?

  • What follow-up tests will I need, and how often will I need them?

  • How do I get a treatment summary and survivorship care plan to keep in my personal records?

  • Who will be leading my follow-up care?

  • What survivorship support services are available to me? To my family?

  • What will rehabilitation after treatment consist of?

The next section in this guide is Additional Resources. It offers some more resources on this website beyond this guide that may be helpful to you. Or, use the menu to choose another section to continue reading this guide.