Preparing for your appointment

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Start by seeing your family doctor or a general practitioner if you have any signs or symptoms that worry you. If your doctor determines you have cancer, you'll likely be referred to one or more specialists, such as:

  • Doctors who treat cancer (oncologists)
  • Doctors who treat cancer with radiation (radiation oncologists)
  • Doctors who treat diseases of the blood and blood-forming tissues (hematologists)
  • Surgeons

Because appointments can be brief, and because there's often a lot of ground to cover, it's a good idea to be well-prepared. Here's some information to help you get ready, and know what to expect from your doctor.

What you can do

  • Be aware of any pre-appointment restrictions. At the time you make the appointment, be sure to ask if there's anything you need to do in advance, such as restrict your diet.
  • Write down any symptoms you're experiencing, including any that may seem unrelated to the reason for which you scheduled the appointment.
  • Write down key personal information, including any major stresses or recent life changes.
  • Write down your family's history of cancer. If other members of your family have been diagnosed with cancer, make a note of the types of cancer, how each person is related to you and how old each person was when diagnosed.
  • Make a list of all medications, vitamins or supplements that you're taking.
  • Consider taking a family member or friend along. Sometimes it can be difficult to remember all the information provided during an appointment. Someone who accompanies you may remember something that you missed or forgot.
  • Write down questions to ask your doctor.

Your time with your doctor is limited, so preparing a list of questions can help you make the most of your time together. List your questions from most important to least important in case time runs out. For cancer, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:

  • What type of cancer do I have?
  • What stage is my cancer?
  • Will I need additional tests?
  • What are my treatment options?
  • Can treatments cure my cancer?
  • If my cancer can't be cured, what can I expect from treatment?
  • What are the potential side effects of each treatment?
  • Is there one treatment you feel is best for me?
  • How soon do I need to begin treatment?
  • How will treatment affect my daily life?
  • Can I continue working during treatment?
  • Are there any clinical trials or experimental treatments available to me?
  • I have these other health conditions. How can I manage them during my cancer treatment?
  • Are there any restrictions that I need to follow?
  • Should I see a specialist? What will that cost, and will my insurance cover it?
  • Is there a generic alternative to the medicine you're prescribing?
  • Are there brochures or other printed material that I can take with me? What websites do you recommend?
  • What will determine whether I should plan for follow-up visits?

In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask other questions that occur to you.

What to expect from your doctor

Your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions. Being ready to answer them may allow time later to cover other points you want to address. Your doctor may ask:

  • When did you first begin experiencing symptoms?
  • Have your symptoms been continuous or occasional?
  • How severe are your symptoms?
  • What, if anything, seems to improve your symptoms?
  • What, if anything, appears to worsen your symptoms?
  • Does anyone in your family have cancer?
  • Have you ever had cancer before? If so, what kind and how was it treated?
  • Have you ever been exposed to chemicals at home or at work?
  • Do you smoke or use tobacco?
  • Have you ever been diagnosed with a hepatitis infection or a human papillomavirus infection?
Jan. 02, 2014