Lung Cancer Diagnosis: 11 Questions To Ask Your Doctor

Kathy Quan

Learning of a new diagnosis after completing various lung cancer screenings can be very upsetting and even life-changing. 

Following the diagnosis, there will be other considerations such as treatment options, success rates, side effects, and overall prognosis and survivorship. This is the time to stop and make some important decisions. It is not at all unusual to experience some shock and disbelief during this time. 

The doctor might go on for several minutes discussing the lung cancer diagnosis, treatment options, palliative measures, side effects, and curative rates.

All the while, you as the patient have mainly only heard the words “you have lung cancer.“

When experiencing this shock and disbelief, it may be difficult to make decisions about treatment options and future plans. The following tips can help you make sense of what you’ve heard and how to proceed. 

Appoint a Loved One to Attend Appointments With You

One of the first decisions to make should be around who will be the appointed caregiver to accompany you to your appointments and to advocate for your wishes. It’s going to be important for someone to be there as a second set of eyes and ears to hear what the practitioners have to say. 

Ideally, this person needs to be less emotionally involved than the patient. They should be able to absorb all of the information and help formulate questions to improve their understanding of the situation.

Next, help to compile a list of questions to get all the information so you can process how the next few days, weeks, and months might go. 

Try not to make assumptions or believe everything you read on the internet. No question is a dumb question. Information is key to retaining a good quality of life and having the best possible outcomes.

Lung cancer research has been going on for a considerable time and over the years, many things have changed and evolved.

Many new treatments for lung cancer patients are available today that weren’t just a few years ago. In fact, the treatment a well-meaning friend or loved one had even just five years ago may be entirely irrelevant today or perhaps their clinical trial is now a standard of care.

Healthcare is a team process, and the patient should be at the center of the healthcare team and all discussions and decisions about their cancer care. Good communication will help to improve the quality of care along the way.

11 Questions to Ask Your Healthcare Team After a Lung Cancer Diagnosis

The following frequently asked questions can help get you started on the quest for more information and guidance.

Be sure to keep a notebook handy and write down the answers as you receive them so you can refer to them later, as well as share them with other family members and caregivers.

1. What kind of lung cancer do I have? 

According to the American Lung Association, the two major types of lung cancer include: 

  • Small Cell Lung Cancer (SCLC) 

    • Non-small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC) 

The type of cancer will determine the best type of treatment.

2. How do I have lung cancer if I never smoked? 

Your personal lifestyle and living experience will play a part in the answer. Secondhand smoke is a huge danger.

Exposure to chemicals like asbestos or career-related exposures like firefighting or the military can contribute to the cause. Others may have a genetic predisposition.

3. What stage is my cancer and has it spread? 

The stage determines how long the tumors or modulates have been growing.

If cancer has metastasized (spread) it’s important to learn where it has spread to and how extensively.

4. Has my tumor been tested for biomarkers? 

Biomarkers or molecule markers tell the cellular characteristics and can help determine the best treatment choices based on targeted therapy or immunotherapy. This is an important step in individualizing the treatment options for your specific cancer cells.

5. Do I need to have surgery? Will surgery remove all of cancer? Are there risk factors to consider with surgery?

Surgically removing the tumors may or may not be necessary based on your specific test results. Some surgery might be indicated, or radical surgery may be necessary.

6. Will I need chemotherapy? How about radiation therapy? 

Depending on the size, stage, and biomarkers, treatment options will vary from patient to patient. Other health issues can also influence what can be done and how you may react.

7. What side effects can I expect? Will it affect my daily activities?  

Typically, chemotherapy and radiation have a reputation for causing mild to severe symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and fatigue. Keep in mind, that you may lose your appetite as a result.

Pain can be another factor. Any other health issues can be exacerbated such as increased blood sugar in diabetics. 

Shortness of breath can be increased with treatments such as removing part of the lung or damaging the lung with radiation, or from the growth of tumors. These will all be individualized according to your specifics. 

Mild side effects might make no difference to your lifestyle while more moderate or severe will likely sideline you to some extent. Your doctors can provide medications and other options to help reduce symptoms, but they aren’t without possible side effects such as sleepiness.


8. How long will the treatments last and what will they be like? 

This will vary with your individual results, but it’s important to understand this information so you can plan and make necessary adjustments. 

More screening tests will be ordered along the way to determine the success of the treatment options and any changes in cancer.


9. What is my expected outcome? How is this going to change my life?  

The stage, the type of lung cancer, metastasis, and your overall health status will all affect how well you’ll deal with the treatment plan and how effective it will be. 

It may not be easy to predict in the beginning, but how well your body responds along the way will affect the outcomes.

10. How long has your care team been practicing and what is their success rate? What are their preferences in types of treatment? 

You might want to know more about your new team of care experts which may include your primary healthcare professional, an oncologist, the cancer specialist, who will head up your lung cancer treatment plan, and a pulmonologist, the lung specialist, who will manage your lung disease issues.

You’re going to be spending a lot of time together over the next few months. Being comfortable with your care team is essential.

11. Who can I call if I have more questions? 

Learn how your care team works. Figuring out when and where you can contact them if you have questions or concerns is imperative. 

Many physicians now have an open email line, or even prefer texting, sending pictures or videos, etc. They may also have some set boundaries and specific timelines for non-emergent issues. Learn what they are.

Remember to Seek Support and Encouragement

Remember that anything new has its scary moments and you are not alone in this journey. There will be support groups, social workers, chaplains, and a whole team of healthcare professionals to support you and help you navigate.