Talking to doctors about prostate cancer

Great questions to ask

A lot of people feel intimidated when talking to doctors about prostate cancer.  Preparing your questions ahead of time can help ease some of your fears. 

Remember that you have the right to ask as many questions as you need to.  If a doctor is rushing you, or not properly addressing your questions, you always have the right to work with another doctor. 

Prepare yourself mentally

  • If you are meeting with a doctor for the first time, think of it as a job interview where you are doing the hiring!
  • You are your man’s best “patient advocate."  The more information you gather and read before talking with doctors, the more informed questions you can ask.
  • Write down questions ahead of time.  If you get nervous while you are talking, or forget, you’ll have this list of questions to refer to.

Background/practice check

  • Where did the doctor go to medical school?  Who did they train with? How long have they been in practice?  How many men with prostate cancer do they treat a year?  Would you rather your loved one go to a doctor who treats five men with prostate cancer each year or 50?
  • When talking to a surgeon ask how many surgeries does he/she perform a week? It makes a big difference if a surgeon does 1 to 3 surgeries per week versus only 1 to 3 per month.
  • There are many different surgical approaches for prostate cancer. If a surgeon suggests a newer technique, such as robotic-assisted laparoscopic radical prostatectomy, ask how many times the surgeon has performed this type of surgery.  One study reports that a surgeon needs to perform 750 "keyhole" surgeries to become proficient. You don’t want your loved one to be among the doctor’s early “test cases.”
  • A telling question to ask any doctor is what percentage of men he/she treats need additional treatment later on?
  • If a doctor can’t provide you with treatment follow-up percentages specific to his/her practice, you may want to consider finding another doctor who does keep track of this information.
  • You can also ask to call a few men the doctor has previously treated to ask for a recommendation.  The doctor will just need to get permission from those men first. Even better, go to a support group meeting and ask around about the doctor.

Definitions vary

  • How does the doctor define incontinence? If he/she does not define occasional leaking/accidents or dribbling as incontinence, you need to know this!
  • What about impotence?  Some doctors will not use this term to describe partial erections or erections that are not firm enough for sexual intercourse.
  • Another good question is how many men have experienced long-term impotence or incontinence after treatment? Make sure the doctor gives you his/her practice percentages and not general percentages from large clinical studies.

Speak up for yourself

  • If the doctor uses terms that you don’t understand, don’t be afraid to ask what they mean. It’s better to keep questioning the doctor so you leave the office with the knowledge that you need and deserve.
  • If you feel you are being rushed or intimidated, stand your ground until you get the answers/information you deserve.  Remember, you're paying this doctor for services.

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Always consult a medical professional.

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