Chemotherapy - questions to ask

  • If you have been diagnosed with cancer, take the time to research care options and get a second opinion.  Often, decisions about cancer treatments are not based on good evidence, and patients may not understand their choices and what to expect.  For example, some studies suggest that 2/3 or more of cancer patients with poor prognoses incorrectly believe the treatments they receive could cure them.  Among the questions to ask:

    • How long does the average person with this cancer live?

    • What is my likelihood of a cure?
    • If I can not be cured, will I live longer with treatment?  How much longer?
    • Will this care directly treat the cancer, or improve my symptoms, or both?

    • What are the side effects?

    • Am I healthy enough to try this treatment, or will my other health conditions and medications interfere?

    • How many times have you done this procedure?

    • What does the care cost?
    • Am I eligible for clinical trials?    

If your health team does not have answers, you need to find another set of providers.  (Aging population faces cancer-care crisis, by Lauran Neergaard, interviewing Dr. Pataricia Ganz, cancer specialist, University of California, Los Angeles, Associated Press, September 23, 2013)

  • 13 Questions to Ask Your Doctor about Chemotherapy
Advanced preparation and education about chemotherapy can help relieve some of the stress and confusion many people feel when faced with any treatment for cancer. If you're about to begin chemotherapy, these questions can serve as a guide to help you discuss treatment with your doctor.
  1. Is chemotherapy the best choice of treatment for my condition?  What is the usual standard of care for people with the type of cancer that I have?  Are there alternatives to chemotherapy?  Will the chemotherapy be performed in conjunction with other treatments like radiation therapy or surgery?

  2. Are there clinical trials or experimental treatments available for the type of cancer that I have?  Why should or shouldn't I consider going on such a trial?

  3. What drugs will I be receiving?  How was/were these drug(s) chosen?  How will each drug be given (intravenously, orally, by injection, or otherwise)?

  4. How many treatments will I receive? What is the treatment schedule?  Where do I go to receive treatment?

  5. How long should I plan on being at the treatment center?  Can I have someone with me during the administration of the drugs? Is there a TV or radio in the room? Can I bring a DVD player, iPod, or other entertainment device?  What else should I plan on bringing to the treatment center?

  6. What are the side effects of the drugs I will be receiving?  Will these side effects develop immediately or after a period of time? How should I manage the side effects?  Are there medications which may help relieve some of the side effects? Are there any side effects that I should report immediately?  Are there any long-term side effects?

  7. If I have unusual or severe side effects, or have questions about the treatment, whom should I call?  What do I do if I have questions or problems after normal office hours?

  8. How will I feel after the treatment and between treatments?  Can I work or carry on normal daily activities?  Will I need to arrange for someone to help me at home?  Are there certain activities or situations (such as being around people with infections or colds) that I should avoid?

  9. Can I take my other prescription or nonprescription medications while I am receiving chemotherapy?


  10. Do you have any written information about the treatment that I can take with me to read and share with family and friends?


  11. Does my insurance cover the cost of treatment?  Will there be a co-payment required at each treatment visit?  Are there support groups or counseling services available if I feel that I would benefit from these services?

  12. What is the goal of the treatment?  What proportion of people like me responds to treatment and for how long?  When will the effects of the treatment be evaluated? How will you decide if the treatment is working?  What are the alternatives if the treatment is not effective?

(Source:  Medical Author:  Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD; Medical Editor:  Jay W. Marks, MD; Medically reviewed by Jay B. Zatzkin, MD; American Board of Internal Medicine with sub-specialty in Medical Oncology, "Cancer Chemotherapy," U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health)