Questions to Ask Your Radiation Oncologist

It is important that you fully understand the potential benefits, side effects, and goals of radiation therapy. Your cancer care doctors and radiation oncology nurses are available to answer any questions you may have during treatment. They are the best source of accurate information about your particular case.

Coping with a diagnosis of cancer, researching the various treatment options, and even understanding your treatment experience can be stressful. To assist you in this process, below is a list of questions you may or your family want to ask your radiation oncologist throughout your cancer experience.

Questions to Ask at Diagnosis

  • What type of cancer do I have?
  • What stage is my cancer, and what does that mean?
  • How will the stage affect my prognosis and treatment?
  • Where is the cancer located?
    Has my cancer spread from where it was initially?
  • Can I have a copy of my pathology report?
  • What is the long-term prognosis?
  • Is my cancer curable?
  • What is the survival rate of this kind of cancer?
  • Are there other tests I should take before considering treatment?
  • How do I get a second opinion?
  • What can I do to stay healthy throughout this experience?
  • Are there any trusted websites or books you would recommend for learning more about my diagnosis?

Questions to Ask When Making Treatment Decisions

  • What are my treatment options?
  • What treatment plan do you recommend and why?
  • What is the goal of treatment?
  • What are the side effects of each treatment?
  • What are the pros and cons of each treatment?
  • How much experience do you have treating this kind of cancer?
  • Should I consider a clinical trial?
  • What are some of the support groups I can turn to during treatment?
  • What do I do if the treatment doesn’t work or the cancer returns?
  • How should I prepare for this financially?
  • Who in your office should I speak with about my cancer insurance?
  • Are there any trusted websites or books you would recommend for learning more about my treatment options?

Questions to Ask When Considering Radiation Therapy

  • What is the purpose of radiation treatment for my type of cancer?
  • How will the radiation therapy be administered?
  • Will the radiation therapy be external beam or brachytherapy?
  • For how many weeks will I receive radiation?
  • How many treatments will I receive per week?
  • How should I prepare for radiation therapy?
  • What are the chances that radiation therapy will work?
  • What is the chance that the cancer will spread or come back if I do not have radiation therapy?
  • Will I need chemotherapy, surgery or other treatments?
  • If so, in what order will I receive these treatments, and how soon after radiation therapy can I start them?
  • How can I expect to feel during treatment and in the weeks following radiation therapy?
  • Can I drive myself to and from the treatment facility?
  • Will I be able to continue my normal activities?
  • Will I be able to work during treatment?
  • What side effects may occur from the radiation, and how are they managed?
  • Will radiation therapy affect my sex life or my ability to have children?
  • Do I need to take any special precautions, like staying out of the sun or avoiding people with infectious diseases?
  • Do I need a special diet during or after my treatment?
  • Can I exercise during my treatment?
  • Will side effects change my appearance?
  • If so, will the changes be permanent or temporary? If temporary, how long will they last?
  • Are there any trusted websites or books you would recommend for learning more about radiation therapy?

Questions to Ask During Treatment

  • How often do I need to return for checkups?
  • How often will I need additional tests, like imaging scans or blood tests?
  • Are my symptoms normal?
  • Are there any specific symptoms I should report to you?
  • How will I know if the treatment is working?
  • What can I do to alleviate my symptoms?
  • How can I reach you outside of normal business hours?
  • Who do I call if there’s an emergency?
  • How and when will you know if I am cured of cancer?
  • What are the chances that the cancer will come back?
  • How soon can I go back to my regular activities? Work? Sexual activity? Aerobic exercise?
  • Should I be doing any exercises now?
  • Is there a mental health professional you would recommend if I need to talk to someone?

Questions to Ask After Treatment

  • What warning signs should I watch for that might indicate my cancer has returned?
  • Who should I call if I notice these symptoms?
  • Is there any follow-up treatment I will need?
  • How often will we run follow-up tests and exams?
  • Do I need to maintain a special diet?
  • Are there any activities I should avoid?
  • How long will it take me to feel like myself again?
  • What records should I keep regarding my treatment?
  • What do I do if the cancer returns?

Questions for Family or Caregivers to Ask the Doctor

  • How will this treatment impact the way they live their life?
  • Will they be able to maintain their regular schedule?
  • Will they need to take time away from work?
  • Will they need someone to drive them to and home from their appointments?
  • What can I do to help?
  • Are there special meals or preparations I should make?
  • Is there a support group for families you would recommend?
  • Who should we call in case of an emergency?

Tips for Communicating with Your Care Team

Navigating a cancer diagnosis can feel overwhelming, especially when you’re inside the doctor’s office. There are steps you can take to prepare for each appointment. This will help you prioritize your own questions, concerns, and needs during every visit with your care team.

  • Write down your questions in advance. It can be difficult to remember what questions you have when you’re in the office. Writing them down and ranking your questions will help you to not miss anything and ask the most important questions first.
  • Bring a friend or family member to your appointments. A trusted friend or family member can be a huge asset during your appointment. They’re more likely to remain calm and clear-headed, so they can ask questions you forget or miss.
  • Ask for clarification. If your doctor or nurse says something you don’t understand, ask for clarification. Your care team is here to help you, and that begins with ensuring you understand your diagnosis, treatment, and options.
  • Record your appointment. You might want to keep an audio file of your appointment on your phone or other recorder. That way, you’ll be able to listen back through your doctor’s recommendations when you have the mental capacity to better understand the conversation.
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