Questions to Ask Your Child's Health Care Provider
No parent wants to see his or her child suffer. A diagnosis of cancer in a child is
one of the most devastating events in a parent's life. Becoming informed is one of
the best coping mechanisms. Cancer is extremely complex and difficult to understand.
It is important for you to ask questions so you are completely clear about the diagnosis
and what to expect. It is also important to understand why certain tests are being
done and what the treatment options are. You are entitled to a clear explanation about
anything related to your child's condition.
To help ensure safe and quality care, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality
recommends that you become an active member of your child's health care team. The
following recommendations will help you start this active role:
Keep asking questions until you understand the answers. Be prepared with questions
before your visits with health care providers, and start by asking the ones that are
the most important to you. A cancer diagnosis is so overwhelming that it is often
difficult to understand all the information being shared with you. Take notes, or
bring a relative or friend to take notes for you.
Keep a list of all medicines your child is taking. Be sure to include the doses, length
of time used, results, and side effects. Ask the pharmacist about the medicine if
it looks different from what you expect.
Keep a file with the results of any tests or procedures. Don't assume that test results
are fine if you don't hear back from the health care provider. Call and ask for results.
Also ask what the results mean for your child's care.
If surgery is recommended, make certain you know what will happen. Find out how often
the surgery is performed, what will be done, how long it will take, what will happen
after surgery, and how your child will be expected to feel during recovery.
In addition to the above, here are some important questions you may consider asking
your child's health care provider:
What type of cancer does my child have?
What is it called and what does the name mean?
What caused the cancer?
How do I explain the disease to my child? How much does he or she need to know?
What do we do about the disease? What is next?
How do we know if a treatment is working? What about other treatments I have read
about in magazines and on the Internet?
Are there any problems that will happen from the treatment?
What if the disease comes back again?
What do I do if my child has a problem coping with the disease or the treatment for
the disease? Where do I turn for help?
What support groups are available?
Always tell your child’s health care provider about vitamins or alternative treatments
you may be interested in trying. Some may be harmful, rather than helpful.
The American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Cancer Institute (NCI) both recommend
that the diagnosis, staging, and treatment of childhood cancers happen in a center
that specializes in childhood cancers. In these centers, children are treated by a health
care provider (pediatric oncologist) who specializes in the care of children with
cancer. Equally important, in a childhood cancer center your child's care is developed
within a multidisciplinary team. This means that a variety of specialists, who work
with children, work together to develop the best treatment or "protocol" for your
In addition to the NCI, the American Cancer Society provides reliable information on childhood cancers. You may also call 800-227-2345.
A cancer diagnosis is a crisis not only for your immediate family, but also for your
relatives and friends. It is important to identify your support network. Reaching
out for help may be hard, like asking health care providers numerous questions, and
using outside community resources. However, in the long run, having support will help
make sure that you have safe care for your child, and emotional and physical support
for you and your family.