Does this sound familiar? You booked an appointment with your doctor. Maybe it took awhile before an opening was available. Maybe this is the first appointment you’ve had in some time, so you are eager to take advantage of this facetime, because there’s a lot you want to discuss.
Then, you arrive and sit in the waiting room. When it’s your turn, perhaps you are feeling a little stressed or a little flustered, as that is common during some appointments. You may forget what it was you meant to ask. In that case, when the appointment ends, you get home and may realize that you left without asking all the questions you wanted.
This is not an uncommon scenario. Especially when your health concerns are serious and you may be anxious. But by doing a little research and preparation beforehand, you can arrive with a list of specific questions and get the most value out of your time with your urologist.
Knowing which questions to ask and writing them down in advance benefits you at any stage of the prostate cancer journey, whether they are questions about family history, regular screenings, treatment versus active surveillance, treatment options, or side effects. Then, when it’s time to make an important medical decision, you have the knowledge and clarity to decide with confidence.
Pressed for time
During an appointment, patients, on average, spend less than 20 minutes with their doctor. That’s not a lot of time to explore important health issues. Due to scheduling demands, doctors are often overworked and pressed for time.
This puts a lot of pressure on doctors and patients. Since talking about prostate cancer can be stressful – particularly if you have a family history of prostate cancer or have just received a diagnosis – it’s important to use your time together wisely.
To get the most out of your doctor’s visit, it’s best to come prepared with the questions you want to ask and the key topics you’d like to discuss. Consider bringing a friend or loved one with you to be a second pair of ears and to jot down notes.
A little research goes a long way
It won’t take much time and effort to prepare before your appointment, and it will be worth it. First, learn whether your family has a history of prostate cancer, and, if so, the details: Who? When (age at diagnosis)? Cancer stage at diagnosis? Treatment? Was prostate cancer the cause of death?
Then, familiarize yourself with the different screening options (or treatment options, depending on your circumstances). Do you have any questions about these options?
Below, we list questions to ask your doctor at different stages in the prostate cancer journey.
Discussing family history, screenings, and preventive measures
- Given my family history, personal details, and medical history:
- Am I at a greater risk of prostate cancer than the general population?
- Is there anything I can do/any lifestyle changes I can make to lower my risk?
- When should I start getting screened, and how often?
- What are the pros and cons of getting a PSA test, a DRE, and/or a prostate biopsy?
- Are there other screening options I should also consider?
- If I get a PSA test and my levels are high, does that mean I have prostate cancer? What else could it be?
- If I get a biopsy and it shows cancer cells, does that mean I will need treatment right away?
If early-stage prostate cancer has been diagnosed and you need to decide between treatment or active surveillance
- Would my cancer progress if I don’t have treatment right away? If so, how quickly would it progress?
- What are the side effects/health risks of getting treatment now? What are the side effects/health risks of watchful waiting?
- Which approach do you recommend, and why?
- What are my options if the cancer progresses?
- If I choose not to have treatment right away, how will I be monitored? What kinds of tests will I have, and how often should I have them?
If you have prostate cancer that needs to be treated and you want to know your options
- What are my treatment options?
- What are the pros and cons of each of these options?
- Are there any clinical trials I could participate in?
- Which treatment do you recommend, and why?
- (How) will this treatment affect my day-to-day life?
If you have chosen a treatment plan and have questions about post-treatment effects
- What are the side effects of this treatment (short term and long term)
- What can I do to mitigate these side effects?
- Should I expect changes to sexual, urinary, or bowel function?
- Will this treatment make me infertile?
- How long will my recovery time be before I can resume normal activity?
- Are there symptoms to watch out for that mean I need to see a doctor?
Advocate for yourself
Time spent face-to-face with your doctor is valuable. Use it to your advantage and get the information out of it that you need. Doing some research and preparing specific questions ahead of time will help you keep the discussion on track. It’s important that you receive enough knowledge to be confident in making a screening or treatment decision. Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification and take notes–or bring along a friend or family member to take notes for you.
For more information on what to ask during your appointment:
Cancer.net / ASCO
Canadian Cancer Society
health.gov (US DHHS Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion)
Prostate Cancer Foundation (PCF)