12 Questions to Ask at Your First Cancer Appointment


Your first cancer appointment can be overwhelming. Your head may be buzzing with a host of fears, worries and questions. Our checklist will help you prepare for your appointment so you will come away from the visit with the information you need to move forward in your cancer journey with confidence.

first cancer appointment

Before the appointment, do this:

  1. Write down everything that is on your mind. While not every question can be addressed at the first visit, this will help you get your thoughts in order and give you a solid starting point.
  2. Ask a friend or family member to come with you as a second set of eyes and ears, to listen to what the doctor says and take notes for later reference.
  3.  When scheduling your appointment, ask if there is a nurse navigator available to provide support, information and assistance, either during the appointment or afterwards.

At the appointment, ask this:

  1. What kind of cancer do I have? Is it a common type or a rare one? Can it be cured? Controlled?
  2. What stage is it? What does that mean? 
  3. Do I have to undergo any further diagnostic tests before we can begin treatment?
  4. Should I see a specialist? Get a second opinion?
  5. What are my treatment options?
  6. Which treatment or combination of treatments would you recommend and why?
  7. Where can I receive treatment—at my local facility or one farther away?
  8. What types of side effects or impact will each option have on me and my lifestyle?
  9. Am I eligible for a clinical trial?
  10. Is there a genetic link to this type of cancer? Should my other family members get tested?
  11. What can I do now and going forward to keep myself in the best possible shape?
  12. Where can I get more information or support?

After the appointment, begin this:

  1. Start a file where you can keep copies of all test results, medication, nutrition and therapy tips, and any other information that relates to your type of cancer, treatment or healthcare team.
  2. Keep a running list of any questions that occur to you as you move forward, or side effects or problems that develop so you can discuss them with our healthcare team.
  3. Talk with your family about what is happening, perhaps even bringing certain members to appointments so they have a better understanding of your disease and how it can affect you physically and psychologically.

If you have questions about cancer or services in your community, call askSARAH to speak to a nurse available 24/7 at 844-482-4812. Sarah Cannon also offers patient education materials on the website here.

11 Responses to “12 Questions to Ask at Your First Cancer Appointment”

  1. Delores Lyon

    Thanks for sharing these questions to ask your oncologist. My general practitioner just told me that she thinks she found a tumor on my back, so I am going to find an oncologist to take a look at it. Hopefully it isn’t anything too serious, but it would definitely be a good idea for me to write down all the questions I have. That way, I can learn everything I can about my condition.

  2. Jane Fox

    My father was diagnosed with leukemia a few years ago, and I think these questions would have really helped us all at his first oncology appointment. As it was, we were all sort of dazed and overwhelmed and didn’t know what to do or ask. We eventually got answers to all these questions, but I imagine the process would have been much simpler had we just known what was important in the beginning. I really appreciate this list–thanks.

  3. Charlotte Eddington

    The list of items you shared about preparing before your first appointment, is interesting. I hadn’t considered writing down everything that was one your mind, then sharing your concerns with your doctor. That hadn’t crossed my mind. But oncology is a difficult thing to deal with and having most of your questions asked, would be very helpful.

    • Mary Beth Folger

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Charlotte! We are glad the blog was helpful to you. If you think of other questions that we didn’t list, please let us know. I’m sure others would fine it helpful too!

  4. Brandon Roberts

    My grandma just found out that she has breast cancer, and she is going to be meeting with her doctor next week. I know she really wants to make sure she gets all her questions answered. So I’ll make sure I show her this right away, so that she knows what kind of things to ask.

  5. Michael Lee

    I like one of the very first suggestions made emphasizing the importance of keeping a level head, and the rest of the suggestions after that. You know I have actually witnessed the stress that oncology interactions can be for those who have serious or minor afflictions of cancer, and it is so vital for progression to ask important questions and stay calm. My appreciation goes out to the author for taking the time to post this!

  6. Sarah Smith

    My friend was recently diagnosed with cancer and is trying to find a good oncologist. Thanks for the advice about writing down all your questions before, so that you can have a starting point of where the doctor can help educate you. Hopefully, my friend can find a good doctor to help her through this.

  7. Dennis Sanchez

    I had heard that working well with your oncologist was important during cancer treatments. You mentioned that you should write down everything that is on your mind, and ask you doctors those things. I would imagine that someone who was recently diagnosed with cancer would have a lot of questions and making sure you have all those questions answered could definitely benefit the relationship between patient and doctor.


    I am at a crossroad because I have been seeing an Oncologist in Urology at MD Anderson as 2nd opinion but concerned now because if there has to be any extensive testing my insurance will only pay 20% because MD Anderson is not of HCA. I am in need of finding a Urologist who is on my insurance plan at HCA and go from there I guess. So confused here and anxious!!

    • SarahCannon

      Hi William, thank you for reaching out on our Sarah Cannon Cancer Blog. Our best resource is for you to talk to one of our nurses on our phone line called askSARAH at 1-844-482-4812. More info here: http://sarahcannon.com/askSARAH/ A nurse will answer your cancer questions 24/7 and connect you to national and local resources near you. Please do let us know how you’re doing after the call. We want to make sure you get the best care Sarah Cannon/HCA has to offer.


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