Every year, an estimated 161,000 U.S. men hear the words, "You have prostate cancer." Other than skin cancer, it's the most common cancer in American men. When you were first diagnosed with prostate cancer, you probably felt shocked. Then, you probably began wondering, "Now what?"
You probably have many questions about your prostate cancer diagnosis and what to expect from treatment. We've created this guide to answer some of those questions and prepare you for what to expect as you begin your journey as a prostate cancer patient.
What kind of doctor should I see?
You may have been diagnosed with prostate cancer by a primary care physician, an internist or a urologist, but your prostate cancer will need to be treated by an oncologist, which is a doctor who specializes in the treatment of cancer. Your medical oncologist will oversee your prostate cancer care after diagnosis and may bring in other types of doctors as needed.
Every patient is different; depending on the specifics of your case, your oncologist may order radiation therapy or chemotherapy to kill cancer cells, hormone therapy, surgery or a combination of those treatments. As a patient of Maryland Oncology Hematology, you'll have access to skilled oncology nurses, prostate cancer surgeons, radiation oncologists, nutritionists and other cancer-care specialists.
As a cancer patient, you will receive a large amount of important information in a short time. It's a good idea to take notes during each of your doctor's appointments. One easy way to stay organized is to purchase one notebook that you take with you to every doctor's visit. This way, you'll have all of the information you need in one place - you can keep track of your medications, your scheduled appointments, and your doctor's instructions. Ideally, look for a notebook with pockets, or go for a three-ringed binder so you can keep receipts, test results, instructions, etc.
In this notebook, you can jot down questions and concerns that come up between appointments so you'll remember to discuss them with your prostate cancer specialist. If you're worried that you'll miss important information while you're taking notes, you might want to record conversations with your physician (many smartphones have a recording feature) and write down the important information in your notebook later.
What should I expect during my first appointment?
Expect to do a lot of listening during your first appointment. Your oncologist will probably explain more about your condition and how advanced the disease is and discuss a general plan for beginning cancer treatment. Make sure to have your notebook and recording device with you because you'll receive lots of important information.
We strongly suggest that you bring a supportive relative or friend to this oncology appointment. Not only will this person serve as an extra set of "ears" to make sure you don't miss any details, he or she will also be able to ask questions you may not think to ask and discuss the appointment with you after it's over.
What questions should I ask my oncologist?
When you learn you have prostate cancer, there are certain questions to ask your oncologist so you'll better understand your illness and what to expect. We recommend that you write the following questions in your cancer notebook so you'll make sure to ask them.
- What is the clinical stage of my cancer? (Prostate cancer stages range from 1, which is the earliest stage, to 4, which is the most advanced.)
- What is my cancer's Gleason score? (This is a grading system for cancer cells. A Gleason score ranges from 1, which refers to less aggressive cancer, to 10, which is usually more aggressive.)
- Do you know if my cancer has spread beyond my prostate?
- Do I need any additional tests before you decided how my cancer will be treated?
- How long will cancer treatment last?
- How can I prepare for treatment?
- What side effects should I expect during prostate cancer treatment?
- Will I experience incontinence or impotence?
- Should I change my diet or exercise habits while I'm going through prostate cancer treatment?
- Should I call my primary care doctor or my oncologist if I have medical issues that don't seem to be related to my cancer?
Should I consider participating in prostate cancer clinical trials?
Cancer clinical trials usually involve testing new dosages or new combinations of drugs that have already been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). There are many potential benefits of cancer clinical trials. You could have access to effective treatments before they're available to the public. And, you'll receive extra medical care because clinical trial participants must see an oncologist or research nurses more frequently.
Because Maryland Oncology Hematology participates in US Oncology Research, our patients have access to a large number of clinical trials in and around Maryland and Washington, D.C. Currently, we have openings for prostate cancer patients who are interested in participating in targeted clinical trials (you can learn about active prostate cancer trials here.) Make sure to talk to your oncologist about the pros and cons of participating in a cancer clinical trial.
Will insurance cover my treatments?
One of your biggest worries may be, "How will I pay for prostate cancer treatment?" If you have insurance, your policy will probably cover at least some of your prostate cancer treatment. Every policy is different and every patient's recommended course of treatment will be unique. Maryland Oncology Hematology is a participating provider for most insurance companies. After your prostate cancer diagnosis, contact your insurer and ask for a copy of your medical insurance benefits. Our patient benefits specialists can help you determine what your insurance will and will not cover.
Should I get a second opinion?
It is only natural that you want to be absolutely certain that you have prostate cancer before beginning treatment. It's understandable that you may want to get a second opinion to make sure. There is no harm in doing that, and it will help you feel confident about your diagnosis. Our medical providers at Maryland Oncology Hematology regularly provide second opinions for patients diagnosed with prostate and other cancers. Contact your insurance company and ask if it will cover a second opinion. Then, choose our location that is most convenient to you before contacting us to schedule an appointment.
Draw strength and knowledge from others
Battling prostate cancer is an emotional time. You are not alone, though. The Prostate Cancer Foundation is a great source of information, as is our Patient Resources page. You may also decide to join an online or face-to-face prostate support group. There are plenty of people who can help you along the way.