Getting a diagnosis of prostate cancer can be frightening and overwhelming. It can also bring up feelings of stress, uncertainty, and sadness. One of the most important parts of getting good medical care is communicating with your doctor and healthcare team. That includes getting detailed information about your condition, how it can be treated, and what the possible side effects of different treatment options are. It also includes information about your emotional response and how to cope with your diagnosis and treatment.
Your experience with your doctor
Our 2018 Prostate Cancer In America survey results show that a full 80% of the respondents in our community felt comfortable discussing all aspects of their prostate cancer with their healthcare provider. Likewise, nearly three-quarters of respondents were satisfied with their care and felt that their healthcare provider offered clear information about their diagnosis, treatment, and individual concerns.
Still, there were common challenges for patients in communicating with their healthcare team. These challenges were the same no matter which stage of cancer our respondents were in. In particular, community members mentioned:2
The lack of mental health services is especially significant, as our Prostate Cancer In America survey clearly shows that the emotional impact of having prostate cancer can often outweigh the physical impact.2
When the community was further asked what questions they wish they asked of their healthcare team, the answers centered on understanding the side-effects of various treatment options as well as disease progression. There was also mention of discussing chances of survival and the psychological impact of post-surgery side-effects (such as changes in sexual health).
Starting the conversation
There are ways to prepare so you have the best chances of communicating effectively with your healthcare team and getting your questions answered. Some strategies include:
Starting a healthcare journal to keep all your information in one place
Preparing a list of questions before your appointment
Bringing someone to your appointment to help track and record information
Writing down your doctor’s answers, so you can refer to the information again
Tips for communicating questions and concerns
A research study from the University of Rochester aimed to train patients and doctors in better communication strategies. The patient training encouraged people to:
Ask questions about your disease, choice of treatment, chance of recovery, and quality of life
Ask about the positive and negative aspects of important choices
Ask your doctor to explain when you do not understand
Feel free to express your concerns and opinions
Feel free to express your emotions, including fear and sadness
Remember, your doctor works for you
Frank and open discussions with your healthcare team are critical in making sure you have the best outcome and experience in managing and treating your prostate cancer. Remember that you are the consumer and you have a right to learn and understand your options.
Be sure to ask all the questions you have, no matter how personal or embarrassing. It’s likely that your doctor has heard them before. In the end, your healthcare team wants to be sure you understand your treatment options and what to expect, so you can be prepared.
Questions to Ask My Doctor About Prostate Cancer. American Cancer Society. Updated April 20, 2016. https://www.cancer.org/content/dam/cancer-org/cancer-control/en/worksheets/questions-to-ask-about-prostate-cancer.pdf Accessed August 10, 2018.
Prostate Cancer in America. Health Union. 2018.
Stacy Simon. Researchers Look for Ways to Improve Communication Between Cancer Patients and Doctors. September 22, 2016. American Cancer Society. https://www.cancer.org/latest-news/researchers-look-for-ways-to-improve-communication-between-cancer-patients-and-doctors.html Accessed August 10, 2018.