Questions to Ask Before Deciding About Radiation Treatment
When deciding whether to undergo radiation treatment, keep in mind that it is your choice whether to take treatment, and if so, which particular treatment.
Radiation is recommended based on your type of cancer and your particular situation. Because cancer is different for everyone, your radiation treatment will be planned just for you.
It is advisable to ask the doctor, nurses, social workers, and other professionals on your team as many questions as you need to in order to make an informed decision. They know the most about radiation treatment, how it works and your individual situation. Sample questions to ask before agreeing to radiation therapy are noted in other sections of this article. Questions to ask differ depending on the type of radiation. We have compiled questions for the following subjects. Consider compiling your own list by printing our list and eliminating those questions you don't feel a need to ask and by adding your own:
- External radiation (radiation is received from a machine from which rays are directed at the body)
- Internal radiation (radioactive material is inserted into the body.)
- Intraoperative Radiation Therapy (radiation to an area exposed by surgery)
If you want to create your own list, you can keep track of your questions with our Prioritizer. Write questions as you think of them. Before you go to the doctor, number the questions in order of your priority. A click of a key will shuffle the questions into your order to print and take with you.
Keep in mind that the answers to your questions may be stated in medical terms or in concepts that are difficult to understand. Do not be afraid to ask that the answer be repeated with different words until you understand what you want to know.
There are various aides to help you remember the doctor's answers to your questions. One way is to take a patient advocate with you to the meeting. Another is to record the session, with the doctor's permission of course. We recommend doing both if possible. If the doctor won't allow you to record the conversation, at least take notes. (To learn what to look for in a patient advocate, click here.)
If you do not get all your questions answered during your session with the doctor, ask when you can follow-up with additional questions (on the phone, via email or in another appointment).
If you need time to feel comfortable with a decision about a treatment, ask your doctor how long you have before you have to make a decision without jeopardizing your health.
NOTE: Do not be afraid to admit that you are confused or that you need to ask the same questions over again. Nothing you say will sound "silly" or "strange" to your health care team because they know you want to understand your treatment plan as much as possible. All patients getting radiation therapy have questions.
For questions about other treatments, see: