Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Newly Diagnosed? Top 5 Questions You Should Ask Your Care Team

Hearing the words “you have cancer” is enough to send any mind spinning. You may have a million questions running through your head, and you may not know where to start when it comes to asking for information about your diagnosis and treatment. However, opening up a dialogue with your care team is the best way to get the answers you need to make informed decisions about your health. The list below will help you ask the right questions as you start your cancer journey.

  1. Exactly what kind of cancer do I have? All cancers start with an uncontrolled growth of cells in the body, but different kinds of cancer behave very differently. They may grow at different rates and respond to different treatments – and not just because they affect different parts of the body. There can also be sub-types of breast cancer, for example, that behave differently from other sub-types of breast cancer. Learning your exact diagnosis and the l name of your cancer is the first step in understanding your diagnosis and helping others understand it, too.
  2. What stage is my cancer, and what does that mean?  Staging is a concise way to describe the size of a particular cancer growth and also how far the cancer may have spread beyond where it started. Cancers can range from stage I to stage IV, with stage I describing the smallest tumors located in only one area of the body and stage IV describing larger growths or cancer that has spread. The stage is very important in making decisions about the best treatment, for example a stage I breast cancer will be treated very differently from a stage IV breast cancer. Knowing the stage also can help your doctor talk to you about how likely you are to respond to treatment and survive the cancer. Ask your doctor to explain what stage cancer you have and why it was staged that way. You may need to have some additional tests or even surgery for doctors to fully stage your cancer.
  3. What are my treatment choices? There may be more than one way to treat your cancer. Learning about the effectiveness, potential side effects, and long-term outcomes of different cancer treatments can help you make the best decision about the next steps in your care. Ask what the goal of the treatment is: Are you working to get rid of the cancer, keep it from spreading, or simply relieve some symptoms? Also ask what the long-term effects of potential treatments might be. Some treatments can permanently affect your fertility or other bodily functions or increase your risk of a second cancer in the future.
  4. What will life be like during treatment? Knowing what to expect on a day-to-day basis during treatment can help you feel more calm and prepared as you move forward. Ask about the basics, such as where your treatment will take place, how long it will last, and how often you will need to go. Also ask how the treatment might impact your daily activities: Will you still be able to attend work or school? Drive a car? Travel? Get an idea of how the treatment might impact your body, too. Will it be painful or cause physical side effects such as hair loss or fatigue? If you get details in advance, you can make a plan for how you will cope with these factors if and when they happen.
  5. How much will it cost? Although money may be the last thing you want to talk about, cancer will likely impact your finances as well as your body. After talking with your doctor about treatment options, talk with your insurance company or the financial office of your hospital or clinic to get a clear idea of how much your care will cost. Ask about the costs of any treatment and about the costs of medicines or any home care services you may need. If you need help paying for your care, ask to talk with a social worker who may be able to guide you to resources to help you.