Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Where can I find a simple explanation of some of the complicated medical terms my doctor uses?

A: The first and best place to turn to is your health care team itself. Whenever your doctor uses a term that you don’t understand, ask what the word means. It is okay to tell your doctor, “I don’t know what that word means. Could you please explain it to me?” Asking questions will help you better understand medical terms and what they mean for your treatment.

Another valuable resource that provides simple explanations for complex medical terms and procedures is the National Cancer Institute’s Dictionary of Cancer Terms, a resource with more than 7,000 terms related to cancer and medicine. This resource is especially helpful if you are doing research in between doctors’ appointments. You can view the glossary at www.cancer.gov/dictionary.

Q: I know my oncologist is focused on treating my cancer, but I wish she was more compassionate towards me. What can I do?

A: Some doctors and health care teams may not have as much time as they would like to sit down and talk with you about your needs and concerns. It is also possible that some medical professionals lack training in regards to effective ways to communicate and cope with emotions. Some health care professionals are trying to change that and many medical schools now require coursework on doctor/patient communication. Many organizations, such as CancerCare, are also raising awareness of how important it is to address the full range of patients’ concerns.

This booklet discusses many steps you can take to improve communication with the members of your health care team. You can also speak with a social worker at CancerCare for additional tips.

Q: I have tried to improve my relationship with my oncologist, but it’s just not working. I really want to try another physician, but I’m scared to. Should I just stay with my current doctor?

A: A strong relationship with your oncologist can make a tremendous difference in how you cope with your cancer and treatment. However, they are only one member of your medical team. If you are not able to communicate directly with this person, try talking to a nurse, nurse practitioner or social worker associated with your oncologist’s practice. Someone else may be able to meet your needs.

If you have tried many of the tips in this booklet and nothing works, or you really believe changing doctors would improve how you feel about the care you are receiving, trust your instincts. You have a right to feel comfortable with your health care team and satisfied that you are getting the best care possible. Before selecting another oncologist or health care team, do your research. Ask other patients for recommendations, or contact diagnosis-specific cancer organizations for a list of recommended doctors or cancer centers. Many cancer centers and medical centers have physician referral services to help you.

In addition to being among the first to receive a new treatment, people who take part in clinical trials are closely monitored by their doctors and other researchers and help future patients by advancing the science of cancer. Your doctor can tell you whether there are any trials that may be right for you. There are also resources available online.