Learning that you have kidney cancer can be a terrifying emotional experience. The diagnosis may fill your head with questions about your illness, your future, and what this means for your family.
One way to start coping with a kidney cancer diagnosis is to have an honest discussion with your doctor and health care team about your illness. Arming yourself with knowledge will allow you to be actively involved in managing and treating your kidney cancer. So don’t hesitate to ask any questions about your diagnosis, and make sure you understand the doctor’s answers.
“When you go through your questions, write the answers down,” recommends Len Lichtenfeld, MD, deputy chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society. “Many people don’t remember the answers, so it often helps to have another person go with you and write them down.”
Kidney Cancer: 10 Questions to Ask
While there are many things you’ll need to know about your kidney cancer diagnosis, these 10 questions should be at the top of your list.
- Exactly what kind of kidney cancer do I have? Kidney cancer, also called renal cell carcinoma, has many different forms, such as clear cell (the most common type of renal cell carcinoma), papillary, sarcomatoid, and transitional cell.
- How many patients have you treated with kidney cancer? It’s important to have a doctor who is experienced in treating kidney cancer, particularly if he or she is a surgeon, to ensure that you’re on the right treatment path after diagnosis, says Lichtenfeld.
- Has my cancer spread beyond the kidneys? Kidney cancer can be diagnosed when the cancer is still isolated to the kidneys or after it has spread (or metastasized) to other parts of the body. Fifteen to 25 percent of patients have metastatic disease at the time of diagnosis, according to the Kidney Cancer Association.
- What is the stage of my cancer? This information will help determine how extensive or advanced the kidney cancer is. Thirty percent of kidney cancer patients show signs of advanced renal cell carcinoma when diagnosed, according to the Kidney Cancer Association.
- What are my treatment choices? Surgery is the main treatment for kidney cancer, but other treatment options include radiation therapy, targeted therapy (drugs that can block the growth of cancer cells at a molecular level), immunotherapy (treatment that boosts the body’s immune defenses), chemotherapy, or a combination of these.
- What treatment do you recommend and why? Discuss what treatment option is best for you, and ask about related risks and side effects. Some of the things your doctor may consider are the stage of your cancer, your overall health, side effects of the treatment, and the chances that the treatment will cure the disease, relieve symptoms, or extend your life.
- How should I prepare for treatment? Depending on the recommended treatment, there may be things you can do in advance to prepare. For example, the day before undergoing surgery you may be asked to take a laxative and to drink fluids, as emptying out your gastrointestinal tract could reduce the risk of infection during surgery.
- What are the chances of the cancer recurring? There’s always the possibility that the cancer will come back after treatment, so discuss this with your doctor.
- What is my prognosis? Most people don’t want to ask how long they are likely to survive after a diagnosis, says Lichtenfeld, but it’s important to have a clear picture of what you’re dealing with in order to best manage kidney cancer.
- What kind of follow-up do I need after treatment? Follow-up is recommended after surgery, and some kidney cancer treatments can have long-lasting symptoms or side effects. Discuss what steps are needed after treatment to manage your kidney cancer.
Don’t let the confusion or shock of your kidney cancer diagnosis stop you from seeking the correct care. The more you learn through your doctor consultations, the more confident you’ll be about making proper health decisions