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Questions to Ask Your Child's Healthcare Provider

No parent wants to see their child suffer. A diagnosis of cancer in a child is one of the most devastating events in a parent's life. Becoming informed is an important coping mechanism. Cancer is very complex and hard 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 choices are. You are entitled to a clear explanation about anything related to your child's condition.

To help make sure of safe and quality care, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality advises that you become an active member of your child's healthcare team. The following advice will help you start this active role:

  • Keep asking questions until you understand the answers. Be prepared with questions before your visits with healthcare providers. Start by asking the ones that are the most important to you. A cancer diagnosis is so overwhelming that it is often hard to understand all the information being shared with you. Take notes. Or bring a family member 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 healthcare provider. Call and ask for results. Also ask what the results mean for your child's care.

  • If surgery is advised, 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. Don't be afraid to ask the surgeon how many of these types of surgeries they have done.

In addition to the above, here are some important questions to think about asking your child's healthcare 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 do they 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 online?

  • 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 healthcare 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 advise 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 healthcare 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 child. 

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 family and friends. It is important to identify your support network. Reaching out for help may be hard, like asking healthcare providers many questions, and using outside community resources. But in the long run, having support will help make sure that you have safe care for your child. And it will provide emotional and physical support for you and your family.

Online Medical Reviewer: Jessica Gotwals RN BSN MPH
Online Medical Reviewer: Richard LoCicero MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Sabrina Felson MD
Date Last Reviewed: 2/1/2023
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