Step Two: Questions to Ask Your Doctor

Different treatment options may be available depending on the stage and location of the cancer. In addition to the list of questions provided here, be sure to talk to your doctor about clinical trials, target therapy, and personalized medicine.

Prior to appointments with your physicians, be sure to organize your thoughts and questions and bring this list with you. During your appointment, start with your most pressing concerns. We also highly recommend bringing a family member or friend with you as another set of ears, and to take notes and chime in with questions. 

It’s important to understand your medical options and the courses of treatment you are undertaking. Remember, you have every right to ask your physicians whatever questions you may have on your mind—as many times as you need. If at any point you aren’t understanding the information being presented to you, you can always slow things down, and request explanations. It’s OK, and encouraged, to advocate for yourself, and have your caretakers advocate on your behalf.

Here’s a list of sample questions from Heather Sentkoski, a clinical social worker at Johns Hopkins, to use as a guideline:

Questions to Ask

If you are meeting with a surgeon or oncologist for the first time, do not be afraid to ask:

  • Have you ever treated a pancreatic cancer patient before?
  • If this is a surgeon, how many surgeries have you performed on Pancreatic Cancer patients?
  • What has the general outcome of those patients been?
  • Where were you trained? (medical school, residency)

Important questions to ask your doctor:

  • What is the diagnosis?
  • What treatments are recommended?
  • Are there other treatment options available that you do not provide? (i.e., protocol treatments, herbal therapy, touch therapy, other alternative therapies)
  • What are the benefits of each treatment?
  • What are the side effects of each treatment?
  • What are the medications being prescribed? What are they for? What are their side effects?
  • Are there any clinical drug trials I can participate in?
  • How should I expect to feel during the treatment(s)?
  • What are the risks of the treatment(s)?
  • Will my diet need to be changed or modified?
  • Will I need to take enzymes, vitamins, etc.?

Do not forget to ask about other things that may be important to you:

  • How will Pancreatic Cancer affect my quality of life?
  • How will Pancreatic Cancer affect my ability to work?
  • Can my treatment be done as an outpatient so that I can spend more time at home and with family?
  • Will I have any physical limitations? What will they be?
  • How will my current lifestyle be changed?

Finally—and most importantly—ask these questions of YOURSELF:

  • Does my doctor appear interested in answering my questions?
  • Or, does my doctor look annoyed when I ask questions, like I’m doubting their expertise or I am holding them up?
  • Do I feel that my doctor cares about my medical outcome?

If you are uncomfortable with the results of some of these questions, you may want to re-evaluate your choice of physician or get a second opinion.

Explore Second Opinions

Seeking a second opinion for a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer and subsequent treatments is commonplace, and is a practice most doctors encourage. Since different physicians may recommend different courses of treatment, second opinions can provide you with comprehensive options regarding your healthcare, and enable you to choose the plan that is right for you and your family.

We can review your options with you, and connect you directly with the doctors and care providers who can provide additional insights on your diagnosis and treatment.


Next: Understanding the Roles of Your Medical Team

Go To Step Three