What questions should I ask?

Talking to your medical team is your opportunity to get the information you need. But it can be difficult to think of questions, or remember what you wanted to ask when you are in a doctor’s surgery, busy hospital ward or outpatient department. It may help to jot down a list of points as you think of them at home between appointments. If possible, take someone with you when you go for your appointment so that they can take notes for you and help you remember what was said.

Having surgery

Ovarian cancer is usually treated by a combination of surgery and chemotherapy.  You may be recommended to have surgery first to remove as much of the cancer as possible, followed by chemotherapy.  Sometimes women are offered chemotherapy first to reduce the cancer, and then surgery.

The surgeon performing your operation for ovarian cancer should be a specialist in gynaecological cancers called a gynaecological oncologist.  You need to ask the surgeon if s/he is a gynae-oncologist and ask for a second opinion if they are not.  If your surgery is being carried out as an emergency, or if cancer is not suspected the surgeon may be a gynaecologist or a general surgeon.

Before signing the consent form for your operation you must know exactly what surgery is planned.  Take your time, read the form thoroughly and ask for any unfamiliar words and terms to be explained.

Questions to ask after your surgery
  • What exactly did you find?
  • Has all the cancer been removed?
  • Were any lymph nodes involved?
  • What stage ovarian cancer have I got?
  • Do laboratory tests show that I need more treatment?
  • If so, what treatment do I need and what are the side effects?
Questions to ask when discussing treatment
  • What treatment options do I have?
  • Is the treatment you are offering me aimed at curing my disease, helping me to live longer, or dealing with my symptoms?
  • What side-effects am I likely to experience from the treatment?
  • How will the chemotherapy be given and how long will it take?
  • Will I have to stay in hospital during my chemotherapy treatment?
  • Are there any new treatments or clinical trials that may benefit me?
  • What complementary therapies are available?
  • What if I don’t want chemotherapy?
  • Who will I see during my treatment (oncologist, surgeon, specialist nurse, nurse practitioner)?
  • What will each of these people’s roles be, and how often will I see them?
  • What happens after the chemotherapy?
  • How often will I have to come in for check-ups?
  • How will you check my progress?
  • How will I know if the cancer has come back?

You might not want to know the answer to all these questions, but if you do, you need to ask. The medical team will take their cue from you when it comes to deciding what to discuss with you.

Before you ask, make sure you feel ready to discuss what may turn out to be very sensitive issues. Sometimes it helps to write down or record your questions and the answers so that you can go back and read or listen to them later on, or to take someone with you who can take notes for you.

Standards of Care as agreed by the British Gynaecological Cancer Society

Six key questions you should ask about your care

Will I have:
  • The opportunity of a prompt referral to a consultant-led team specialising in the diagnosis and treatment of gynaecological cancer?
  • Full discussion about options such as surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy before treatment starts?
  • Surgery performed by a gynaecologist who has a special interest in gynaecological cancers?
  • Radiotherapy and chemotherapy undertaken by staff with a special interest in gynaecological cancer?
  • Access to a specialist nurse or counsellor and a symptom control (palliative care) team?
  • Information on support services for myself and my partner?

Last review April 2016
Date of next review April 2018

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