Lung Cancer Diagnosis? Ask These 25 Questions About Treatment Options

Image by Jens Lelie on Unsplash

New treatments, biomarker testing, and clinical trials offer hope for people living with lung cancer. Read on for 25 questions to discuss with your healthcare provider as you consider your options and what’s important to you.

I ask a lot of questions because I feel I need to learn about what’s going on inside me. – Tammy, diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer

If you are newly diagnosed with lung cancer, you probably have dozens of questions going through your mind right now. One of the biggest might be: “Can my lung cancer be treated?” Or “What is the best treatment for the type of lung cancer I have?”

It’s natural to feel overwhelmed as you review treatment options with your healthcare team. There are more ways to treat lung cancer now than ever before. Standard treatment often uses a combination of approaches, such as radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Thanks to ongoing research, there are also promising new treatments available. New drug therapies, including immunotherapies and targeted therapies, are approved regularly.

One way to take control is by asking questions. The more you know about your lung cancer diagnosis, the easier it will be to talk with your healthcare team to determine the best treatment plan for you.

Not sure what to ask your healthcare provider? Here are some helpful suggestions: 

1. What type of lung cancer do I have? 

Tip: The type of lung cancer will determine the types of treatment you will receive. There are two main types of lung cancer: non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and small cell lung cancer (SCLC). There are 3 major types of NSCLC: adenocarcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and large cell carcinoma.

2. What is the stage of my lung cancer? 

Tip: The stage of your cancer will also help determine the types of treatment you will receive. Non-small cell lung cancer can be anywhere from stage 0 (very early stage) to stage 4 (cancer has spread beyond one lung and to another part of the body). Small cell lung cancer is staged differently. Doctors classify it as limited-stage or extensive-stage disease.

3. If my cancer has metastasized (spread), where are the metastases located?

Tip: Cancer occurs when cells in your body start growing and dividing faster than they are supposed to. At first, these cells may form into small clumps or tumors. But they can also spread (or metastasize) to other parts of the body. You still have the same type of cancer you started with. For example, if your lung cancer spreads to the bone, you still only have lung cancer. You do not have bone cancer.

4. Has a sample of my tumor been sent for comprehensive biomarker testing?

Tip: Some cancer drugs are only effective for certain cancer subtypes. Biomarker testing (also called tumor testing) provides specific information about the type of lung cancer you have. So, biomarker testing may help determine the best treatment for you. It may also help determine if you are eligible to join certain clinical trials.

Take our 2-minute survey to find out what biomarker test you should get for your type of lung cancer and what the results mean for your treatment.

This 2-minute video helps explain what you need to know about biomarker testing and how it can impact cancer treatment.

5. How do my age and current health affect my treatment options?

6. What is the goal of my treatment? A cure? To stop or slow the cancer’s growth?

Tip: Be sure to share your own expectations for treatment and the quality of life you hope to have during and after treatment.

7. Which treatments do you recommend, and why?

8. What are the benefits of these treatments?

9. What are the risks of the recommended treatments?

10. What side effects might I expect?

Tip: In your discussion, ask how you can prepare for any expected side effects. By preparing for common side effects before starting treatment, you can improve your quality of life and stay on course throughout your treatment schedule.

Discover Ways to Manage Common Treatment Side Effects

11. How will treatment affect my quality of life?

Tip: Discuss what your treatment will involve in terms of time and travel. Will you need to visit a clinic to receive treatments? Will there be restricted activity or the need for hospitalization?

12. How likely is it that this treatment will work for me?

13. Are there other treatments besides the ones you recommended?

14. Will I be given any combination treatments?

15. How and when will you determine if the treatment is working?

16. How much will this treatment cost me?

Tip: In your discussion, you can also ask if there is a treatment that is just as effective but that costs less. You also may want to ask your healthcare provider if there is a financial counselor with whom you can meet.

17. Is surgery an option?

Tip: In your discussion, ask if the tumor can be removed through surgery.

18. Will I have chemotherapy before or after surgery?

19. What is the name of the chemotherapy I might receive?

20. Will I have radiation before or after surgery?

21. What kind of radiation?

22. Will I have immunotherapy? What kind?

Tip: Immunotherapies are a type of cancer treatment that use the body’s natural defenses to identify, attack, and kill cancer cells. Some may be given in combination with other therapies or with a different immunotherapy.

Read More: Is Immunotherapy Right for You?

23. Am I a candidate for targeted therapy? What kind?

Tip: Targeted therapy drugs are a newer kind of cancer treatment. They “target” specific cancer subtypes. They are better able to attack cancer cells and leave healthy cells alone. Targeted therapies may be given alone or in combination with other treatments.

Watch this 2-minute video to learn how targeted therapy drugs work and if it targeted therapy might be an option for you.

24. Am I eligible for any clinical trials? 

Tip: Cancer clinical trials are studies to test new cancer treatments or learn how to use current treatments better. They may be the only way to try a promising new treatment. Some clinical trials are looking at new ways to treat lung cancer, including new kinds of immunotherapy like vaccines and cell therapies.

Get Simple Answers to Common Questions About Clinical Trials

25. Are there other resources that can help me during this time?

Tip: Your healthcare provider can recommend resources specific to your needs and treatment plan. This may include certain people on your healthcare team who can provide extra support, such as an oncology social worker.

In addition to these 25 questions, you may have questions of your own. Create a list of all the questions you want to ask your healthcare provider and take it with you to your appointment. Consider bringing a trusted friend or loved one with you to take notes and help ask questions.

If you need extra support at any point in your cancer experience, you can also reach out to our Cancer Support Helpline. Our Helpline offers free, personalized navigation by phone and online for people impacted by cancer. This includes navigation for financial issues related to cancer, from managing treatment costs to communicating with healthcare providers about the cost of care and payment. Call 888-793-9355 to be connected with one of our navigators.