Talking to Your Doctor

It might sound like a simple thing but talking to your doctor or any of your healthcare team can be daunting.

As you’re going through a strange and often uncomfortable process, you’ll have many questions along the way. Don’t worry, your doctor has heard everything and nothing you say or ask is irrelevant or silly.

People are often concerned they have a limited time at their appointments, but a good GP or specialist will make time to reassure a patient and answer their questions. Whether it’s through one-to-one appointments or phone conversations, your healthcare team should be on hand for you.

Going to an appointment prepared is always a good thing. In between appointments you might think of questions, or note down symptoms you want to discuss. Having these written down will help clarify what you want to talk about.

Your first appointment
The first time you see your cancer specialist (often an Oncologist) after your diagnosis can be daunting. Take a friend or loved one with you and take a list of questions you want to ask.

Questions you might have before treatment starts:

  • What type of cancer do I have?
  • What stage is it and what does that mean for me?
  • What tests have I had or will I have?
  • What type of treatment are you recommending and why?
  • What does this treatment involve?
  • What is the goal of this treatment?
  • How long does the treatment take?
  • What are the possible side effects?
  • What will my quality of life be like during and after treatment?
  • Will the treatment affect my ability to have children?
  • How will we know if the treatment is working?
  • How much will the treatment cost? Is it covered by Medicare or my private insurance?
  • Are there treatment alternatives and why would you recommend one over another?
  • Can I drive home after treatment or will I need help?
  • Will I be able to work during treatment?
  • Should I speak to other health care professionals before the treatment starts, such as a nutritionist or counsellor?
  • What is my prognosis and the expected course of my cancer?
  • Are there any clinical trials I can participate in?
  • Who should I speak to if I have any questions?
  • Are there any symptoms I should report straight away and to whom?
  • What should I do to prepare for treatment?


Smiling male doctor holding digital tablet, showing test results to patient in hospital. X-ray images on screen. Sick senior woman having a doctor appointment. Medical consultation.


Remember, you don’t have to ask all of these questions, just the ones that are relevant to you or you’re concerned about. Your specialist will also be able to give you links to reading material from trusted sources, such as books, pamphlets or web addresses with more information.

Although it might be hard to resist, don’t resort to Dr Google at 3am when you’re lying awake worrying.

There are also Apps that help you communicate with your health care team, record ‘live’ symptoms and connect with your personal carers.

Here are some practical tips for talking to your health carers.

Carry a notepad to write down key points during your appointments or relay questions you’ve thought of between times.

Check with doctor you’ve made accurate notes.

Take a family member or friend with you to write for you or ask things you don’t think of.

Consider recording your consultations to play back later. Your phone might have this facility or download one. You can play these back to yourself or family and it might help clarify a point for you.
Ask for information on a plan of your treatment so you know what’s happening, where and with whom. If they don’t have a print out, ask for one or get them to write it down for you.

Tell your doctor if you’re using alternative or natural therapies as they can interfere with your treatment and your doctor needs to be aware of everything you are taking, so you get the best possible outcome.

Don’t worry if you want a second opinion. If getting another referral and seeing another consultant makes you feel more confident in your treatment, ask your GP to refer you to another specialist. Don’t be afraid to ask.

No question is a silly question. You’re not being a burden by asking questions. Your health care team are there to help you. If you’re not sure, ask. Maybe you haven’t heard or don’t understand, so go ahead and ask them to repeat what they’ve said.

If you’re not happy with any of your health care team, for whatever reason, speak to someone else about it. Don’t go through your treatment uncomfortable with someone just because you think you have to.



Questions you might have during and after treatment

  • What should I do if I have questions when I get home?
  • What sort of side effects should I expect at home and when should I be concerned?
  • What happens if I feel ill or experience symptoms in the middle of the night? Should I contact a member of my treatment team or go to hospital? What’s the best phone number to have on hand?
  • Should I stay with family or friends or get someone to stay with me?
  • What arrangements are there to help me get to my appointments?
  • Do I need any special equipment or care at home?


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