If you have signs and symptoms that worry you, start by seeing your family doctor or a general practitioner. If your doctor suspects you have lung cancer, you'll likely be referred to a specialist. Specialists who treat people with lung cancer can include:
- Doctors who specialize in treating cancer (oncologists)
- Doctors who diagnose and treat lung diseases (pulmonologists)
- Doctors who use radiation to treat cancer (radiation oncologists)
- Surgeons who operate on the lung (thoracic surgeons)
- Doctors who treat signs and symptoms of cancer and cancer treatment (palliative care specialists)
What you can do
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. To help you get ready, try to:
- 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. Note when your symptoms began.
- Write down key personal information, including any major stresses or recent life changes.
- Make a list of all medications, as well as any vitamins or supplements, that you're taking.
- Gather your medical records. If you've had a chest X-ray or a scan done by a different doctor, try to obtain that file and bring it to your appointment.
- Consider taking a family member or friend along. Sometimes it can be difficult to absorb 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.
Questions to ask if you've been diagnosed with lung cancer
Your time with your doctor is limited, so preparing a list of questions will help you make the most of your time together. List your questions from most important to least important in case time runs out. For lung cancer, some basic questions to ask include:
- What type of lung cancer do I have?
- May I see the chest X-ray or CT scan that shows my cancer?
- What is causing my symptoms?
- What is the stage of my lung cancer?
- Will I need more tests?
- Has my cancer spread to other parts of my body?
- What are my treatment options?
- Will any of these treatment options cure my cancer?
- What are the potential side effects of each treatment?
- Is there one treatment that you think is best for me?
- Is there a benefit if I quit smoking now?
- What advice would you give a friend or family member in my situation?
- What if I don't want treatment?
- Are there ways to relieve the signs and symptoms I'm experiencing?
- Can I enroll in a clinical trial?
- Should I see a specialist? What will that cost, and will my insurance cover it?
- Are there brochures or other material that I can take with me? What websites do you recommend?
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask other questions that come to mind during your appointment.
What to expect from your doctor
Your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions. Being ready to answer them may allow more time later to cover other points you want to address. Your doctor may ask:
March 19, 2014
- When did you first begin experiencing symptoms?
- Have your symptoms been continuous or occasional?
- How severe are your symptoms?
- Do you wheeze when breathing?
- Do you have a cough that feels like you're clearing your throat?
- Have you ever been diagnosed with emphysema or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease?
- Do you take medications for shortness of breath?
- What, if anything, seems to improve your symptoms?
- What, if anything, appears to worsen your symptoms?
- Non-small cell lung cancer. Fort Washington, Pa.: National Comprehensive Cancer Network. http://www.nccn.org/professionals/physician_gls/f_guidelines.asp. Accessed Sept. 3, 2013.
- Estimated new cancer cases and deaths by sex for all sites, U.S., 2011. American Cancer Society. http://www.cancer.org/research/cancerfactsstatistics/cancerfactsfigures2013/index. Accessed Sept. 3, 2013.
- Small cell lung cancer. Fort Washington, Pa.: National Comprehensive Cancer Network. http://www.nccn.org/professionals/physician_gls/f_guidelines.asp. Accessed Sept. 3, 2013.
- Abeloff MD, et al. Abeloff's Clinical Oncology. 4th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier; 2008. http://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Sept. 3, 2013.
- What you need to know about lung cancer. National Cancer Institute. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/wyntk/lung. Accessed Sept. 3, 2013.
- Lung cancer prevention (PDQ). National Cancer Institute. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/prevention/lung. Accessed Sept. 3, 2013.
- Aberle DR, et al. Reduced lung-cancer mortality with low-dose computed tomographic screening. New England Journal of Medicine. 2011;365:395.
- Detterbeck FC, et al. Diagnosis and management of lung cancer, 3rd ed.: American College of Chest Physicians evidence-based clinical practice guidelines. Chest. 2013;143(suppl):7S.
- Xalkori (prescribing information). New York, N.Y.: Pfizer Labs; 2013. www.xalkori.com. Accessed Sept. 3, 2013.
- Avastin (prescribing information). South San Francisco, Calif.: Genentech Inc.; 2013. http://www.avastin.com/patient. Accessed Sept. 3, 2013.
- Tarceva (prescribing information). Farmingdale, N.Y.: OSI Pharmaceuticals LLC; 2013. http://www.tarceva.com/patient/considering/index.jsp. Accessed Sept. 3, 2013.
- Cairns LM. Managing breathlessness in patients with lung cancer. Nursing Standard. 2012;27:44.
- Taking time: Support for people with cancer. National Cancer Institute. http://cancer.gov/cancertopics/takingtime. Accessed Sept. 3, 2013.
- Temel JS, et al. Early palliative care for patients with metastatic non-small-cell lung cancer. New England Journal of Medicine. 2010;363:733.
- Moynihan TJ (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Sept. 16, 2013.
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