Questions To Ask Your Medical Oncologist

A medical oncologist is one of the first specialists you’ll meet with after a cancer diagnosis.

These doctors treat cancer using medication, including chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and targeted therapy.

They are often the main health care provider for people diagnosed with cancer – offering supportive care and coordinating treatments with other specialists.

Here’s what to know about your first appointment with a medical oncologist following a cancer diagnosis.

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What Do Medical Oncologists Do?

Medical oncologists are experts in diagnosing and treating cancer with medications such as chemotherapy, targeted therapy, and immunotherapy.

They work with you and your team to build the most effective treatment plan for you, answering your questions along the way.

While medical oncologists specialize in cancer medications, surgical oncologists treat cancer with surgical procedures. Radiation oncologists use various types of radiation therapy to treat cancer. Surgical oncologists can also perform certain types of biopsies to help diagnose cancer.

What to Expect at Your First Medical Oncology Appointment

When you visit your cancer treatment center for the first time, staff will ensure you’re comfortable and prepared for your appointment.

New patient visits may last a few hours and may involve conversations with your doctor as well as any further testing or lab work needed.

Before your first visit, make sure to gather the following and bring with you:

  • Insurance cards and identification.
  • Lab results and scans.
  • List of your current medications.
  • Medical records from other doctors.
  • New patient assessment form.
  • Pathology slides and written reports.
  • List of questions to ask your doctor.

When you first arrive for your appointment, you’ll sign in at the front desk, verify your insurance information, and complete any additional paperwork. A staff member will likely take your height, weight, and blood pressure.

Once you’re in an exam room, your oncologist will review your medical history, perform any additional physical exams, tests, or lab work needed, and discuss your potential cancer treatment options. Not all patients will require treatment.

During this appointment, you’ll want to express your concerns, ask questions, and take notes. Take a notepad with you to ensure you have the information at your fingertips.

You can usually schedule follow-up visits at the discharge desk before leaving.

Make sure you fully understand your next steps and/or recommended treatment plan before leaving your appointment.

Possible Questions to Ask at Your First Appointment

Here are some suggested topics you may wish to ask your medical oncologist about. It’s not necessary to cover everything, but focusing on the matters most important to you will better equip you to understand and help manage your care.

  • Can you tell me more about the type, location, and stage of my cancer?
  • Would you explain to me what the stage means in my case?
  • What is my specific cancer prognosis?
  • How serious is my cancer?
  • What do you think may have caused my cancer?
  • What do I need to do next?
  • What are my treatment options?
  • Will treatment include surgery? If so, who will do the surgery?
  • What can I expect during treatment?
  • How long will treatment last?
  • How soon do I need to start treatment?
  • What should I do to be ready for treatment?
  • How experienced are you at treating this type of cancer?
  • What do other people typically experience during treatment?
  • What other tests will I need? Who will perform these tests?
  • How and when will I get the results?
  • What other specialists will I need to see for additional treatment?
  • Can you recommend other specialists?
  • What’s the goal of my treatment? Will it remove the cancer?
  • Will my body or health change during or after treatment?
  • What side effects can I expect from these treatments?
  • What can I do to manage those side effects?
  • Is there a clinical trial that might be right for me?
  • Should I make any nutritional changes during or after treatment?
  • How physically active should I be during treatment?
  • How else will treatment affect my daily life?
  • What other appointment should I make now?
  • Should I make a follow-up appointment with you before leaving today?
  • Should I watch for certain warning signs as I begin treatment?
  • When should I call you with health concerns?
  • When should I seek emergency care?
  • How and when do you prefer I contact you with concerns?
  • When can I expect a response?
  • Can you tell me more about what medication you are prescribing me?
  • What support services are available to me and my family?
  • What else do I need to know about my diagnosis and treatment plan moving forward?

About UPMC Hillman Cancer Center

When you are facing cancer, you need the best care possible. UPMC Hillman Cancer Center provides world-class cancer care, from diagnosis to treatment, to help you in your cancer battle. We are the only comprehensive cancer center in our region, as designated by the National Cancer Institute. We have more than 70 locations throughout Pennsylvania, Ohio, and New York, with more than 200 oncologists – making it easier for you to find world-class care close to home. Our internationally renowned research team is striving to find new advances in prevention, detection, and treatment. Most of all, we are here for you. Our patient-first approach aims to provide you and your loved ones the care and support you need. To find a provider near you, visit our website.