Oral and Oropharyngeal Cancer: Questions to Ask the Health Care Team

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 01/2019

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 after getting a diagnosis

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

  • Is HPV a factor in my cancer?

  • 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?

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

  • Who will be leading my overall treatment?

  • Should I get a second opinion about my treatment plan?

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

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

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

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

  • What problems with speech, swallowing, or shoulder motion will likely occur? What rehabilitation services are available? Can you provide a referral?

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

  • 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?

  • 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 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 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?

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

  • 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? If so, what can I expect?

  • 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?

  • Will you please refer me to an experienced speech-language pathologist?

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?

  • 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 having therapies using medication

  • 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?

  • 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 will rehabilitation after treatment consist of?

  • What are the chances of developing a secondary cancer?

  • 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.