Preparing for the Doctor

Your Family Health History

You may know everyone in your family, but do you know everything there is to know about their health history? It’s time to start talking! According to the Surgeon General, a recent survey found that only 1/3 of Americans have ever tried to understand and write down their family's health history. Learning which diseases have affected your family tree, especially cancer, will help you and your doctor understand your risk and take action to keep you healthy. Download and print out the following Family Health History chart and fill it out as thoroughly as possible.  Or click here to build your Family Health History Portrait using the Surgeon General's online tool. Bring it with you to your next doctor’s appointment and encourage your friends and family to do the same. Remember, knowledge is power!


Questions to Ask Your Doctor

This information was adapted from and provided by the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center.

General Questions

Partnering with your physicians and asking questions are the best ways to receive the greatest health care and a proper diagnosis. These questions are useful during your routine appointments and seeing the doctor for a specific problem you are experiencing.

  • How often should I come for a checkup?
  • What does my family health history indicate about my health?
  • What do you suggest as a healthy diet and exercise routine for me?
  • What cancer screening tools are available to me and how often should I get them?
  • What is causing my problem and is there more than one disease that could be causing it?
  • If my symptoms get worse, what should I do on my own and at what point should I contact you?
  • What tests will you perform to diagnose the problem? How safe are they and what are the side effects?
  • What is the likely course of my problem? What is your prognosis with treatment and without?
  • What options do I have for treatment and how effective are they? What are the benefits and risks?
  • Will I need to take some type of medication? Are they safe to take in addition to the medications I am currently taking? 

Post-Diagnosis Questions

Asking questions is essential if you've just been diagnosed with cancer. Naturally, you are feeling overwhelmed, but you should use your skills as a medical consumer to understand your diagnosis and get the best treatment possible. Bring a friend or family member with you to take notes and ask the doctor to give you a copy of their evaluation and options for treatment.

Diagnosis & Tests

  • What stage and grade is my cancer?
  • Do you specialize in (whatever cancer you're having treated)?
  • Can you refer me to someone if I want to get a second opinion?
  • What additional tests or screenings will I have and when should I expect the results?
  • What will these tests/results tell us?
  • Who will contact me with the test results?
  • Who do I contact to get copies of my records, scans, X-rays or other test results?
  • What’s the best way to prepare for the tests and are there specific side effects associated with them?
  • Do I need a friend or family member to come with me to these tests?

Doctors & Treatment Options

  • Which health professionals will be involved in my treatment and care? What are each of their roles?
  • What are my treatment options? Which are best and most appropriate for me in your opinion?
  • What are the risks and benefits of each treatment?
  • What is the prognosis for my type of cancer?
  • Will treatments be at the hospital or in your office?
  • How long does each treatment last and how often do I need it?
  • How long is the entire course of therapy? What will it feel like?
  • What are the side effects? How long do they normally last and who do I contact if they are severe? Is there any way to control them?
  • Will I be tested throughout treatment to make sure it’s effective?
  • What results will we see from treatment?
  • Can I drive to my appointments? Does someone need to stay with me after treatment?
  • Which foods, medications and exercises should I avoid during treatment?
  • When will I be able to go back to work and resume my normal activities?
  • During and after treatment, do I need to make any specific lifestyle changes?
  • If I need to reach you or the hospital, can you give me the appropriate telephone numbers and/or contact information?


  • Will my treatment require additionally expenses, out of pocket?
  • Who in your office assists patients with insurance questions? What is their contact information?
  • If I don’t have insurance, who can I speak to concerning my needed treatment?
  • If my insurance doesn’t cover medication associated with my treatment, who can I speak to?

 This information was reviewed by the Cancer Schmancer Medical Advisory Board.