What To Ask Your Doctor (and Why) When You’ve Been Diagnosed With Lung Cancer

Heather Mannuel, MD, MBA is an Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and a Medical Oncologist at the University of Maryland Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center.  Below are a few questions she says to ask your doctor when you’ve been diagnosed with lung cancer, and why they’re important to ask.

What kind of lung cancer is this? Lung cancers are divided into small cell and non-small cell types, and the treatment is very different for each of these.

What is my stage? The stage helps to give information on whether the cancer is only in the lung or whether it has spread outside the lung to the lymph nodes or to other parts of the body.  This is very important in guiding the next steps of treatment.

What kind of treatment is available for my kind of cancer?  Should I see a surgeon?  Should I see a radiation oncologist? Depending on what type of cancer you have and what stage your cancer is, you may benefit from surgery or radiation.  Some patients only receive one type of treatment, and others receive several types in sequence.  Your oncologist can discuss the options in detail with you.

What kind of chemotherapy treats this lung cancer?  Chemotherapy is sometimes given with radiation, or it may be given alone.  Often two or more different chemotherapy drugs are combined together to treat lung cancer most effectively.

What kind of side effects does the chemotherapy cause?  Although chemotherapy can cause many symptoms including nausea, diarrhea and appetite loss, there are excellent medications available today to help combat these side effects and help patients feel as well as possible during their treatment.

Is immunotherapy an option for my cancer?  Immunotherapy helps your own immune system target and fight the cancer; it is being used in a variety of different cancers today, including lung cancers, with good results.  Your oncologist can discuss whether you are eligible for this kind of therapy, when and how it fits in with standard chemotherapy, and the potential side effects.

I’m interested in adding alternative therapies to my chemotherapy; is this possible?  Many patients feel that therapies such as acupuncture and massage allow them to be more relaxed and comfortable during their treatment.  Some vitamins and herbal supplements are safe to combine with chemotherapy, but some may cause dangerous side-effects.  Before you start any type of alternative therapy, always talk with your oncologist to make sure it’s safe.

Are there any clinical trials that apply to my case?  Trials may provide an opportunity for you to be treated with drugs or other therapies that are not yet on the market but that may ultimately become standard cancer treatments in the future.  Most large cancer centers participate in clinical trials or have an association with other hospitals and centers that run trials.  You can also access https://clinicaltrials.gov/ which is run by the National Institutes of Health and which is a registry of available clinical trials across the United States for a variety of different diseases.

How will I feel during treatment?  Can I still work and take care of my children?  Although many side effects are able to be controlled today, some patients will have treatments that require them to be away from work for several weeks at a time, or that leave them fatigued and unable to maintain their normal work and child care schedule.  Your oncology team can work with a social worker or case manager to help you find solutions to these problems.

What kind of results do you expect from this treatment?  Is this curable?  This is a difficult and scary question, but it is very important to discuss this so you can plan ahead for you and your family.  Although not always the case, even incurable cancers can sometimes be treated and controlled successfully for several years.

Learn more about the Lung Cancer Service at UMGCCC by clicking here.

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