What you need to know before treatment


Preparing to meet the Patient’s Mesothelioma Doctors

A patient with symptoms of mesothelioma will usually start with a visit to the family doctor or a general practitioner.  In some cases, the family doctor may refer the patient right away to a pulmonologist, a doctor who specializes in lung diseases or a gastroenterologist, a physician who specializes in abdominal problems.  If a patient receives a diagnosis of mesothelioma, he or she will be referred to an oncologist, a doctor who specializes in cancer treatment.

The oncologist will decide upon a course of treatment, but will likely work with a team of other doctors, nurses and therapists.  Patients with pleural mesothelioma may be referred to a thoracic surgeon, a physician who specializes in chest surgery.  Some mesothelioma patients are referred to a pulmonologist or a pulmonary therapist to help with recovery of lost lung function.  Where radiation is decided upon, the treatment will be conducted by a radiation oncologist or therapeutic radiologist.  Both are doctors who specialize in using radiation to kill cancer cells in malignant tumors.

Mesothelioma patients are also frequently referred to a psychologist.  Patients who are diagnosed with mesothelioma face a difficult road.  Speaking with a psychologist is beneficial for most patients to sort through mixed feelings and to maintain a positive attitude during treatment. 

Even with an entire team of health care specialists, the mesothelioma patient must play a part.  First, patients must find doctors they trust.  Then, patients must stay informed about what is happening during treatment.  They should not hesitate to ask questions or to speak up when something seems strange or inappropriate. When they are not satisfied, patients should feel completely entitled to seek a second opinion.

To be well informed, it’s essential to prepare before any doctor appointment by taking the following steps:

  • Find out in advance if there are any pre-appointment restrictions, such as, for example, restricting the patient’s diet.
  • Write down the patient’s symptoms, even if they seem unrelated to the reason for the appointment.
  • Write down important personal information, including recent life changes or stresses. If the patient’s symptoms indicate mesothelioma, write down all occupations, however brief. 
  • Make a list of all drugs the patient is taking, including vitamins or herbal supplements.
  • The patient should take a family member or friend to the doctor’s appointment.  During the visit, this person will tell the doctor things the patient forgets; afterward, the person will tell the patient things the doctor said while the patient may have been focused on something else. 
  • Write down questions to ask the doctor.

Doctors are busy and patients rarely have an abundance of time to ask their questions.  Write down all questions for the doctor and start with the important ones first, in case time runs out.  Also, don’t hesitate to question the doctor about anything said during the appointment that is not understood.  Basic questions about mesothelioma might include the following:

  • What is causing the patient’s symptoms?
  • Are there other possible causes for the symptoms?
  • What tests are necessary?
  • Is the condition temporary or chronic?
  • What should be done?
  • Are there alternatives to the doctor’s suggested approach?
  • How can any disease treatment be managed with existing health conditions?
  • Are there restrictions for the patient to observe?
  • Is a specialist necessary and if so, will insurance pay for it?
  • Is there a cheaper generic alternative to any medicine prescribed?
  • Is there any reading material for the patient to take home, or recommended Web sites?
  • Will there be a follow-up visit?

The doctor will likely have questions of his or her own.  Thinking about those topics in advance so answers can be given quickly will allow more time for the patient’s questions to the doctor.  The doctor will probably want to know:

  • When did the patient’s symptom begin?
  • Are the symptoms continuous, or occasional?
  • How severe are the symptoms?
  • Does anything improve the symptoms?
  • Does anything worsen the symptoms?
  • Do the symptoms affect the patient’s ability to work?