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How to Talk to Your Doctor

When you have cancer, you depend on your doctor for many things — diagnosis, treatment, information and support. You may be seeing him or her on a regular basis. The best relationship would be one of a mutual exchange of information. Learning new communication skills can help you become a partner with your doctor in shaping your own cancer care. We have collected some ideas for making that relationship work.

Choose One Doctor as Your Primary Source of Information

Cancer patients often have several doctors guiding their care. The American Cancer Society advises you to choose one doctor to be your central source of information and advice. You might also make it clear to your doctor just who you want to share this information with. Does anyone else — your spouse, friend or relative — help you make medical decisions? If so, be sure to authorize your physician to make information available to them.

Understand Doctors

Some people have difficulty thinking about a doctor as someone to "share things" with, but remember:

Doctors are people too. If you tend to hold your doctor in awe, as many people do, you may feel you are "bothering" him or her when you ask questions. Remember that your doctor's job is to provide you with good medical care and to explain your care. It helps you take care of yourself if you understand your treatment.

Your doctor needs your help to give you the best care. What is right for another patient may not be right for you. Be specific when sharing with your doctor how you feel and what you think.

Choose a Doctor that Fits Your Style

Think about how your doctor talks and how you like people to talk to you. Do you want someone who is direct? Do you find that you are more comfortable dealing with difficult subjects in a businesslike manner? Do you find it easier to talk with someone who develops a more personal manner? Finding someone whose communication style works well with your own will make it easier to develop a two-way relationship.

Think About How Much You Want to Know

Some people want to know only enough to get them to the next appointment. Others want a brief overview of what they can expect, and no more. Still others want detailed explanations of all aspects of their diagnosis and treatment. What is your style? Let your doctor know what you need so that you won't receive less — or more — information than you need.

Getting the Most Out of Your Appointments

  • Prepare. Write down your questions ahead of time. If you have a lot of questions, ask for a longer appointment.
  • Answer your doctor's questions and report your progress. Be honest about how treatment is affecting you. Be as specific as you can when describing things. Report any unusual symptoms.
  • Take notes. If you have trouble taking notes and listening at the same time, take a friend or a family member. Sometimes two sets of ears are better than one.
  • Let your doctor know about any fears or complaints. If your doctor doesn't know about your fears or complaints, he or she can't do anything about them. Remind your doctor of what you want. Share important events in your personal and social life as these can affect your health, your treatment and your outlook.
  • Ask for explanations. If you don't understand something, ask again. Part of a doctor's job is to be an educator. It's all right if this means going over the same point several times.