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Q. I want to ask my oncologist about other types of treatments, but am concerned she might think I'm questioning what she has recommended. Is this something most patients do and how should I bring up?


The issue of exploring “other” treatments, which differ from recommended treatments your doctor has prescribed, is a topic that many patients would like to discuss with their doctors. However, some patients report feeling concerned that this discussion could affect the relationship and quality of their care. Patients may feel that their doctors are so busy that the appointments are rushed and information is given in unfamiliar medical terms, or that they do not know what to ask or feel intimidated.

A patient’s relationship with his/her doctor is both a professional and personal one. We believe that our doctors and the health care team will be medically effective and, at the same time, compassionate in caring for us. Good doctor/patient communication is key, and communicating effectively with the doctor is a skill that may need attention and practice.

CancerCare’s publication “Doctor, Can We Talk?”: Tips for Communicating with Your Health Care Team suggests a number of recommendations:

Before the Appointment

Remember you are the consumer, and the best consumer is an informed consumer. Learn about your cancer and possible treatments. Know who is on your health care team, including the nurses, social workers and patient navigators.

Create a journal or binder of your cancer experiences. Note the dates of your appointments, the names and contact information of your health care team, as well as a list of medications with dosages. You can also keep a diary of side effects as well as questions that you have for your next appointment. Writing down questions before your appointment will help you feel more organized. If your doctor is open to this suggestion, send your questions to the doctor before the appointment.

During the Appointment

Write down your doctor’s comments, advice and answers to your questions. If you feel that this will not work for you, bring someone to the appointment who can do this for you or ask if you can record the appointment.

Try to be focused and to the point. Explain your cancer experience clearly and briefly, including symptoms and medication side effects.

Ask the doctor to repeat a comment, to use language that is easy to understand, or even to slow down. If something is unclear, repeat it to the doctor as you have heard it. Be assertive but also be understanding. If the doctor is in a rush, ask if there is another member of the team, such as a nurse or social worker, who can answer your questions.

Through the use of the Internet, there is an abundance of medical information as well as opportunities to connect with people in a similar situation. Doctors report that they are very aware that patients have greater access to medical information and are often more educated about their cancer and treatment than in years past. Many doctors are prepared and are available for more in-depth discussions with their patients. Keep in mind that doctors may not know all there is to know about every cancer and its treatment. Many doctors welcome information, questions and discussions of other treatments. In fact, some physicians have stated that they have learned about other treatments because of information that a patient presented.

It is suggested to ask your doctor how he/she feels about your bringing in research and information about your cancer and asking questions about “other” treatments. This will give you some insight as to what your doctor may or may not feel comfortable discussing.

Professional oncology social workers can help you learn to better communicate with your doctor and health care team. Call CancerCare at 800-813-HOPE (4673) to speak with a social worker.

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