Questions for Your Care Providers (and Yourself)
At some point, you'll want to ask your physician or other care providers questions to help you make decisions about your treatment and care. You'll also need to ask yourself some questions to become clear about your concerns, fears, values, and goals: Communicating them to your cancer care team is important because it helps your team understand who you are as a person and factor that into the information and guidance they give you.
If you want to take an integrative approach to your care, more questions for your physician will arise, as will questions for the complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) practitioners that you talk to.
Healing Circles Langley has compiled a guide as a starting point: Decision Making Under Pressure: Tips for Working through a Cancer Diagnosis.
Many people with cancer have found that having a person on their team—such as a friend, family member, cancer advocate, or cancer navigator—is helpful for researching and gathering information that can help you make decisions about your care. This person could help you draft questions to ask your care providers and even accompany you to your appointments to take notes.
Assess your own goals, beliefs, values and abilities regarding your care. See Which Options Best Suit You?
Assemble your cancer care team. BCCT suggests these questions specific to integrative cancer care, in addition to those listed in Step One above.
Questions When Selecting an Oncologist
If you want to take an integrative approach to your care, and you haven’t yet chosen your oncology physician, you might consider asking the following questions:
- Do you practice integrative cancer care (blending conventional cancer treatments with evidence-based complementary therapies)?
- If so, what complementary approaches do you offer?
- Do you offer the complementary approaches through the clinic or will you be referring me to practitioners outside the clinic?
If the physician doesn't offer an integrative approach:
- Will you support me in using complementary approaches such as playing guided imagery or music recordings before or during surgery, taking supplements during treatment, or using acupuncture to manage certain side effects of chemotherapy?
- Will you be open to communicating with my complementary medicine practitioners if you have important information to report that would affect the safety and effectiveness of my care?
Questions When Selecting a Naturopathic Oncologist
- How long have you been in practice?
- What percentage of your practice is devoted to providing care for people diagnosed with cancer?
- Do you have experience in treating my cancer type?
- How would you communicate with my oncologist(s)?
- Will my insurance cover my visits with you and any lab tests that you order?
- What are your goals in working with people diagnosed with cancer?
- What types of treatments might you recommend?
- Do you work with patients who are also receiving conventional treatment?
- Do you provide treatment if I choose not to receive conventional treatment?
- How do you keep yourself up-to-date with new oncology treatments—both conventional and naturopathic?
Questions When Assembling a Complementary Medicine Team
If you will be pulling together your own team of complementary medicine practitioners, these tips and questions may be helpful. Some were devised by cancer survivor and integrative cancer care navigator Carole O’Toole and medical oncologist Carolyn Hendricks, MD.1 A friend or family member may help you research practitioners.
Tips for Finding and Choosing Complementary Medicine Practitioners
Referring to lists of practitioners or pulling up a list through an internet search is a good start, but those lists often don’t tell you about the quality of the practitioner’s work or “bedside manner.”
- Go to your networks of friends, family, healthcare providers, complementary medicine practitioners you’ve used in the past, and especially cancer survivors who have had experience in using complementary medicine practitioners. Ask for recommendations.
- Ask your oncologist, oncology nurse, or oncology navigator to put you in touch with other patients they know who are using or have used complementary approaches.
- After you find a practitioner you trust, ask for leads to other practitioners to consider for your integrative care team.
- Listen for practitioners whose names come up repeatedly.
- Investigate the practitioner as much as the practice. Set up an interview (see interview questions below). Be wary of practitioners who claim they can “fix you” and/or who claim that their treatment alone will take care of your problems and/or who bash conventional cancer treatment. You want practitioners who will be part of your team, not talk you into defecting from an integrative team approach.
Questions to Ask Potential Complementary Medicine Practitioners
As you interview practitioners, “try to pay attention not only to their answers, but to the feelings they evoke. . . it works best to weave the questions into the conversation and avoid a 'third degree' approach, which can alienate the practitioner and sabotage your goal of forming a strong partnership.”2
- How does your therapy work?
- What does this type of treatment offer a person physically, emotionally, and spiritually?
- Does it specifically help cancer?
- Do you have data to support this that you're willing to share?
- Do you offer other forms of treatment, and if so, what are they? Can you explain how I would benefit from them?
- What can I expect to feel from the treatments, physically and emotionally, both during and after?
- What are the common side effects and if there are any, how long do they last?
- How do you feel about conventional cancer treatment?
- How do you expect my conventional cancer and/or medical treatments to affect the process or outcome of our work together?
- Would interrupting our work together because of medical complications (hospitalizations, disease symptoms/treatment side effects) cause a problem?
- Would you be able to come to me if I am ill?
- What led you to your profession?
- What is your training and how does your training compare to other programs in your field?
- How do you stay current in your field?
- Is there state and/or national licensing or certification for your profession/modality?
- Are you licensed/certified?
- How long have you been in practice and how long have you been practicing in this area?
- Do you have experience working with cancer patients?
- What do you think/feel about working with cancer?
- Do you think that the work you do helps people who are dealing with cancer, and if so, how?
- Would you be comfortable putting me in contact with any of your cancer patients who might be willing to talk about their experience in working with you?
- Would you be willing to give me the names of colleagues that I can call as a reference?
- Do you have experience in working with physicians who offer conventional care? Would you be open to working with my physician and/or other members of my care team?
- Would you be willing to refer me to other practitioners if needed?
- Do you have patients complete intake forms?
- Do you keep session notes?
- What is the expected/required or average length of treatment duration (number of sessions and length of each session)?
- Do you offer a “trial period” for clients to receive a limited number of sessions, then assess if it is advisable to continue?
- What are the treatment fees? Are there additional costs for things such as supplements, herbs, or equipment?
- Does insurance cover this therapy? (Note: Much confusion surrounds insurance coverage of complementary therapies, so approach questions about insurance warily. Even if the practitioner says that insurance will cover treatments, you still need to follow up with your insurance company to see if they cover that particular therapy and/or practitioner.)
- Do you work with any insurance plans?
- Are you open to flexible financing?
Questions to Ask Yourself about the Practitioner You Interviewed
During the interviews, notice how practitioners respond to your questions.
- Are they enthusiastic about their work?
- Do you understand their descriptions of their work and themselves?
- Are they thoughtful and open to your needs?
- Are they willing to work as part of a larger team of healthcare providers and practitioners?
- Do they seem to be well grounded, experienced, and dedicated?
- Are they defensive, or does any answer make you feel uncomfortable?
- What does your intuition tell you? Is this a person you can work with and trust to act on your behalf?
Written by Laura Pole, RN, MSN, OCNS, and reviewed by Nancy Hepp, MS; most recent update on October 22, 2018.
- From CAM-Cancer:
- Jeannine Walston, Healing Now: Cancer Diagnosis Navigation
- OncoLink: OncoLife™ Survivorship Care Plan
- Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine: CanHEAL
- Dr. Susan Love: Dr. Susan Love's Breast Book
- Ralph Moss, PhD: The Ultimate Guide to Cancer: DIY Research
- Donald I. Abrams, MD, and Andrew T. Weil, MD: Integrative Oncology, 2nd Edition
- Keith I. Block, MD: Life over Cancer: The Block Center Program for Integrative Cancer Treatment
- Macquarie University and Western Sydney Local Health District: BRECONDA: Breast Reconstruction Decision Aid
- Cancer Commons
- Norman Cousins: Head First: The Biology of Hope and the Healing Power of the Human Spirit