Colorectal Cancer: Questions to Ask the Health Care Team

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 10/2019

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

Talking often with the health care team 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 a digital list and other interactive tools to manage your care. It may also be helpful to ask a family member or friend to come with you to appointments to help take notes.

Questions to ask about choosing a treatment and managing side effects

  • What are my treatment options based on my diagnosis?

  • 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?

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

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

  • Who will be leading my overall treatment?

  • How will this treatment affect my daily life? Will I able to work, exercise, and perform my usual activities?

  • Could this treatment affect my sex life? If so, how and for how long?

  • Could this treatment affect my ability to become pregnant or have children? If so, should I talk with a fertility specialist before cancer treatment begins?

  • If I’m worried about managing the costs of cancer care, who can help me?

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

  • If I have questions or problems, who should I call?

Questions to ask before surgery

  • Where exactly is the cancer located?

  • What do you know about my cancer at this point?

  • If I have rectal cancer, should I have radiation therapy and chemotherapy before my surgery?

  • What other tests will be done before surgery?

  • Can you describe the surgery I will be having?

  • What are you planning to remove during surgery? The colon, rectum, or lymph nodes?

  • Is a biopsy part of the surgery?

  • How soon after surgery will I have all test results and a firm diagnosis?

  • Do you think I may need a temporary or permanent colostomy?

  • Is this the standard type of surgery for my condition?

  • How many times have you performed this type of operation successfully?

  • Who will give me information about how I should get ready for surgery and a hospital stay? How long will I be in the hospital?

  • How will my pain be controlled after surgery?

  • What other side effects are possible with this type of surgery?

Questions to ask after surgery

  • What is my diagnosis based on the results of surgery and biopsy reports, in TNM staging format?

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

  • Did the pathologist test my tumor for a possible genetic cause? Do I need genetic counseling or testing?

  • Does my diagnosis mean that my relatives have a higher risk of colorectal cancer? Should they talk with their doctors about screening?

  • What is my prognosis?

  • How will additional treatment after surgery affect my prognosis?

  • What additional treatment do you recommend? Why?

  • What is the goal of each treatment?

  • Is it a standard treatment or part of a clinical trial?

  • How long will it be before I can go back to work after surgery?

  • If I need a colostomy, will you refer me to a specially trained nurse to decide on the best place for my colostomy and help me learn to manage it after the surgery?

  • Who should I contact about any side effects I experience? And how soon?

Questions to ask about having radiation therapy or systemic therapies using medications

  • What type of treatment is recommended?

  • What is the goal of this treatment?

  • How long will it take to give this treatment?

  • Has my tumor been tested for microsatellite instability and other molecular features?

  • What side effects can I expect during treatment?

  • Who should I contact about any side effects I experience? And how soon?

  • 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 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?

  • 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?

The next section in this guide is Additional Resources. It offers some more resources on this website that may be helpful to you. Use the menu to choose a different section to read in this guide.