Questions to Ask Your Health Care Team

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 10/2022

Learning more about your diagnosis and treatment plan helps you take an active role in planning your cancer care. Studies show that people with cancer who are well informed about their disease and treatment options usually have better outcomes and fewer side effects than those who do not take an active role in their care.

However, some people feel overwhelmed by too much information and do not want to know too many details. That is a normal and common reaction. Decide how much information you want. And, be sure to share your preferences with your health care team and caregivers.

This article will help you find questions to ask your health care team about your diagnosis, treatment options, and prognosis. These questions can help you make decisions about your cancer care. Please note these are suggestions. Feel free to ask questions about any topic or concern that is important to you.

Getting your questions answered

Your health care team should make time to explain your cancer treatment options and answer your questions. Sometimes, it can be difficult to remember your questions while you are in the doctor's office or at a medical center. Here are some tips to help you communicate with members of your team:

  • Consider writing your questions down before your appointment, and identify the most important ones. This can lower your stress level and help you make the most of your visit. You may want to print the list of questions below to bring to your next appointment. Or you can download Cancer.Net’s free mobile app for a list of questions and other interactive tools to manage your care.

  • Bring a notebook, tape recorder, or voice recording app on your phone to the appointment. During your appointment, write down the answers you receive or make an audio recording. It may be helpful to ask a family member or friend to write down answers for you. This will allow you to read or listen to the information later and take the time you need to process it.

  • Tell your health care team if you are having trouble understanding an explanation or certain medical words. Sometimes they may be able to draw a picture or give an example that would help you understand.

  • Let your doctor know if you are interested in seeking a second opinion. Your doctor should understand the value of a second opinion. Your current doctor may even be able to recommend another doctor.

  • Ask your health care team where you can find additional information or printed materials about your condition or concerns. Many offices and cancer centers have this information readily available. In some places, this may be in a patient library or learning resource center.

  • Talk with your health care team about information you have found on the internet (including social media) or in books or magazines. Not all information is accurate and reliable. Learn more about evaluating cancer information on the Internet and what to know when searching.

Asking questions is an important part of managing your care. The questions you choose should be based on your unique needs and interests, and those questions may change over time.

Consider the following questions as you decide what you want to ask your health care team:

Questions to ask to help you understand your cancer diagnosis

  • What type of cancer do I have?

  • Where is the cancer located?

  • What is the stage of this cancer?

  • What do my diagnosis and stage mean?

  • What are my treatment options?

  • What are the risk factors for this disease?

  • Is this type of cancer caused by genetic factors? Are other members of my family at risk?

  • What lifestyle changes—such as diet, exercise, and rest—can I make to stay as healthy as possible before, during, and after cancer treatment?

  • Where can I find more information about this type of cancer?

Questions to ask about diagnosing cancer

  • What diagnostic tests or procedures will I need? How often?

  • Where will I go to have the tests or procedures?

  • How can I prepare for them?

  • What will we learn from the tests or procedures?

  • When will I get the results, and how will I receive them?

  • What does my pathology report tell us about the cancer?

  • Will I need to repeat any tests or procedures if I seek a second opinion?

  • How and when should I communicate with loved ones about my diagnosis?

Questions to ask about cancer staging

  • How will you determine the stage of the cancer? What does this mean?

  • Has the cancer spread to my lymph nodes or any other parts of my body?

  • How is staging used to help decide the best type of cancer treatment?

  • What do my diagnosis and stage mean?

Questions to ask about symptoms

  • What are some common symptoms of this type of cancer?

  • How can I prevent or manage them?

  • What are the treatment options for my symptoms?

  • Will certain activities make my symptoms worse?

  • What should I do if I notice new symptoms or if existing symptoms worsen? Who should I tell?

Questions to ask about cancer treatment

  • What are my treatment options?

  • Which treatments, or combination of treatments, do you recommend? Why?

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

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

  • Who will be part of my cancer care team? What does each person do?

  • How much experience do you or other members of the cancer care team have treating this type of cancer?

  • Will I need to stay in the hospital for treatment? Or will this treatment happen in an outpatient clinic?

  • What is the expected timeline for my treatment? Do I need to start treatment immediately?

  • What are the short- and long-term side effects of this treatment?

  • How will this treatment affect my daily life? Will I be 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?

  • How will you treat side effects that I experience during treatment?

  • How can I keep myself as healthy as possible during treatment?

Questions to ask about clinical trials

  • What are clinical trials?

  • How do clinical trials help people with cancer?

  • What happens during a clinical trial?

  • What are the benefits and risks of participating in a clinical trial?

  • How will I be cared for during the clinical trial?

  • What are my responsibilities during the clinical trial?

  • Are there any costs associated with my participation in a clinical trial? How do these compare to costs of the standard treatment?

  • Where can I learn more about clinical trials?

Find more questions to ask the research team when considering a clinical trial.

Questions to ask about support services

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

  • May I contact you or another member of my health care team if I have other questions?

  • Whom should I call with questions or concerns during non-business hours?

  • Can you recommend a social worker to help locate support services?

  • Where can I find resources for children? For teenagers? For young adults? For adults 65+?

  • If I'm worried about managing the costs of cancer care, who can help me? Find more questions to ask about cost.

  • Who handles health insurance concerns in your office?

Questions to ask about cancer recurrence and 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 to monitor my health? 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?

For more questions, see the "Questions to Ask the Doctor" section of each cancer type.

Related Resources

Cancer Basics

Managing Your Care

Questions to Ask When Making Appointments

What I Want My Patients To Know Before They Leave My Office

Working Together to Choose a Cancer Treatment Plan: A Caregiver’s Perspective