Questions about cancer to ask the doctor

What should I know about cancer?

One of the pieces of advice that I always give to people with cancer is to make a list of questions to ask the doctor. That way you won't forget any. Carrying the doubts prepared helps to collect all the information. The doctor will always answer the questions because he knows that the patient's involvement in the treatment is necessary. This article presents 15 questions about cancer to ask your doctor.

1. What cancer do I have?

The word cancer does not encompass a single disease, but more than 200. Each one has its characteristics, its prognosis and its treatment. For example, in breast cancer, ductal carcinoma in situ is not the same as infiltrating lobular carcinoma. Knowing what type of cancer we have will help us communicate with professionals and seek information on our own.

2. Will more people in my family have it?

One of the most recurring questions is whether there will be more family members who will have cancer. Usually this does not happen (only 5-10% of cancers are hereditary). Therefore when we ask this question the most likely answer will be “it doesn't have to be that way”. This does not mean that family members are free of cancer, but rather that their risk is not increased by the fact that we have it. Knowing that can be reassuring.

If, on the other hand, the risk is higher because it is a cancer that can be hereditary, we can consider participating in genetic counselling. This way we will have more information to make the most appropriate decision.

3. How long does the treatment last and how much will it cost me?

For each type of cancer there is a reference duration of treatment. For example, in breast cancer it is usually about 9 months, plus 3 months of recovery. If we know how long we will be in treatment, how often we have to go, etc., we can plan in the short and long term. For example, knowing that we have chemotherapy every 3 weeks and that the following week we will have the most intense side effects, we will be able to take advantage of the other two weeks to do activities that we cannot do the days after the chemo.

Let's talk about the cost of treatment, one of the most common questions about cancer. In countries where there is a public health system that covers oncological diseases, such as Spain, the cost is minimal. The treatment has already been paid for with taxes, so we only have to add the products that we are going to look for at the pharmacy to alleviate the side effects: the antiemetic, the analgesic, the moisturizing cream, etc. In countries with an exclusively private health system, it will depend on the arranged insurance.

4. What side effects does the treatment have?

This question also helps planning. Not all treatments cause hair loss, nor do they do so in the same way; not all cause nausea and vomiting, etc. Some treatments for colon cancer cause intolerance to cold or heat when eating, so we can plan our diet.

Radiotherapy treatment to the head and neck can cause tooth loss. For this reason, if we have to do radiography, the doctor will recommend that we postpone any treatment in the mouth.

5. Can I eat everything?

Diet is very important, both for living with the disease and for treatment. Generally, you can eat anything, and a varied and balanced diet is recommended. But the doctor will specify if there are things that are more or less recommended. For example, if we have nausea and vomiting, it is better to avoid fatty and fried foods, which make digestion more difficult.

6. Can I drink alcohol?

In our society, alcohol consumption is normalized. We associate it with leisure and celebrations and we have it at a very affordable price. For some types of cancer it is totally contraindicated, such as liver, stomach or kidney cancer. In other cases it can interact with some treatment, such as anxiolytics or sleeping pills.

But in most cases the opinion of oncologists is that a glass of wine or a glass of cava from time to time will not do any harm. It can even help us feel like we are leading a somewhat more normal life and have moments of relaxation with friends or family.

7. Can I exercise?

This is one of the questions about cancer that generates the most consensus among professionals: Yes. What's more, physical exercise is recommended to maintain quality of life and improve well-being and mood. And recent studies done with mice say that the more intense it is, the better. We have previously discussed the practice of physical exercise in cancer. The doctor will advise us on the most appropriate type of exercise in our case.

8. Can I sunbathe?

This doubt appears above all in the face of summer. It is important to solve it before you start going to the beach and the pool. It will also help us to know what clothes we should wear. Radiotherapy treatments, for example, can cause local burns that make sun exposure inadvisable. Of course, if we wear, always with protection!

9. Can I continue working?

One of the questions about cancer that patients and their families ask me the most is this. Not so much related to the ability to work, but rather to the fear of losing a job. With cancer we have frequent visits to the hospital, days when we feel bad, etc. We must ask ourselves if we continue with the job or take the leave.

If the treatment is not too aggressive, it is likely that we can choose between continuing to work or not. In other cases, they will directly advise us to cancel. In general, the doctor will tell us to continue working if we can do the task and if the benefits of working (distraction, social life, normalcy, etc.) outweigh the costs (fatigue, incompatibility, etc.).

10. Can I have sex?

In many patients, sexual life takes a backseat during treatment. They say that the priority is to heal. But keeping it can help communication with your partner, enjoy good times and distract yourself. If we ask the doctor, he will specify any difficulty that may arise depending on the type of cancer we have.

11. If I feel bad, what do I do?

During the treatment there may be situations in which we do not know what to do: fever, a cold, pain in an arm, etc. Sometimes you have to go to the emergency room and, others, we can solve it at home. Let's ask the doctor and nurses if there is a telephone number that we can call to solve it without having to go to the hospital or wait for the next visit.

12. What can I take for daily discomforts (pain, dizziness, vomiting, etc)?

Surely the oncologist will have previously informed us of what we can take in each situation. But we can have doubts about whether a drug will interact with another, or if it will have adverse effects. Asking for it before will save us from having to solve the doubt when we feel bad.

13. Do I have to explain to people that I have cancer?

This is a topic that doctors don't usually mess with. It depends a lot on your personal choice. Explaining it has advantages and disadvantages, but it is a good idea for at least the closest environment to know so that they can accompany us on visits.

14. Where can I find information on the internet?

On the internet we can search for information anonymously, abundantly, accessible 24 hours a day and free of charge. There are so many sources that you have to separate those that give useful and reliable information. The fact that anyone can publish what they want means that we do not always find what we are looking for. The oncologist can point us to web pages prepared by professionals where we will find quality information.

15. What do I do if I have more questions about cancer?

The best source of information is the doctor. Any health professional can explain what we need, within their specialty. In this sense, we can ask the doctor to detail who we have to ask each thing, in order to have the information as quickly as possible.