Five key questions give cancer patients a head start

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One of the most devastating diagnoses one can receive is when the doctor says, "You have cancer."

Reactions to such news can range from distress and despair to cool acknowledgement of the challenges ahead.

But at the point of diagnosis, most patients are not in the right mind or spirit to ask the important questions.

So Dr. G. David Roodman, director of the Myeloma Program at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, and director of the Bone Biology Center at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, has helped to develop a list of five questions cancer patients should ask their physicians:

1. Will cancer and its treatment affect other parts of my body?

"It is important that you visit your oncologist to conduct a full medical examination to determine if your cancer has metastasized [or spread], and learn how you can take action to protect your bones," he said.

Dr. Roodman said cancer could have added impact on kidneys, liver and heart.

2. Should I be concerned about other medical conditions such as diabetes or heart disease and their impact on cancer?

"Pre-existing medical conditions put you at higher risk for developing complications throughout your cancer treatment," he said.

That emphasizes the importance of talking with your regular doctor and oncologist to establish the best treatment regimen.

3. Do I still need to see my other healthcare professionals, including primary care physician, gynecologist and dentist, since I am under the care of an oncologist?

"It is extremely important to visit your other healthcare providers to ensure you are not neglecting other potential health problems," Dr. Roodman said, noting the importance of teamwork among healthcare providers. He said patients often believe mistakenly that the oncologist will take care of all their health problems.

4. How can I maintain intimacy with my partner after my cancer diagnosis?

Some people experience little or no change in sexual desire or energy level. But others experience a decline in interest due to the physical and emotional stress of cancer and its treatments, he said. His advice is to talk with one's partner, work through the situation and find ways to attend to this important aspect of life.

5. Are there certain foods or drinks I should include in my diet as a result of my cancer or the treatments I am receiving?

To maintain the best possible health, cancer patients need to exercise and eat a healthy diet. Dr. Roodman recommends talking to one's doctor about creating a customized exercise and diet plan -- then sticking to it.

More information is available at

An estimated 10 million Americans alive today have faced a cancer diagnosis, states a news release announcing the Web site.

But Dr. Roodman said that learning you have cancer can be a "deer in the headlights" situation.

"People are overwhelmed and don't know what to ask the doctor," he said. "But it's important for you and the doctor to have a good exchange so you do not lose control."

After receiving a cancer diagnosis, Dr. Roodman said, one should go home and compile a list of questions to have answered during the next appointment. He said doctors will answer patients' questions, especially if the patient arrives with a list.

Getting good answers is important in the treatment regimen.

"How you deal with stress and underlying health has an important impact on how you do," he said.

A cancer patient also will do better if he or she is physically fit and follows a good diet. Having a good attitude and being informed also are key.

And don't hesitate to ask questions.

"I think you have more peace of mind knowing what's going on," Dr. Roodman said.

David Templeton can be reached at or 412-263-1578.


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