Two people sitting at a table learning about a cancer diagnosis at the first oncology appointment


What to expect at your first cancer appointment

Everything changes when you or your loved one is diagnosed with cancer. Cancer is complicated, and you likely have a lot of questions. Keep reading to get answers and learn how to prepare for the first cancer appointment.

How to prepare

Preparing for the first cancer visit can feel overwhelming. Your cancer center can relieve some of your stress by answering any pre-appointment questions. 

  • Contact your health insurance provider to better understand what your plan covers. If you have questions about your bill, contact financial services.
  • If you speak a language other than English or are hard of hearing, ask if an interpreter will be available during your visit.
  • Sign up for an Allina Health account and download the mobile app. You’ll have access to secure medical messaging, lab results, virtual care, billing, appointment scheduling and more.

What to bring to your first
oncology appointment

  • Pre-appointment forms. Complete paperwork before your appointment to save time during check-in and help your team prepare.
  • Insurance and ID cards. Bring your health insurance information and legal photo identification, such as a driver’s license, passport or a green card.
  • Medication list. Bring your complete list of medications.
  • Medical and family history. Everyone with cancer has a unique situation. Everything you share illustrates your story and helps your oncologist, a doctor specializing in cancer care, choose the best possible cancer treatments for you.
  • Your medical records. Bring any images, lab results, notes from previous visits and other information relevant to your cancer diagnosis. If you’re an Allina Health patient, your cancer team already has access to your medical records. 
  • A notepad. Write down your questions and highlight which ones are most important to you. Your oncologist will make time to address all of your questions and concerns about your diagnosis and treatment. 
  • A loved one. They can support you, take notes, ask questions and ensure you don’t miss important details.

What to expect

During your first appointment, an oncologist will focus on your type of cancer and share which treatment options fit your diagnosis. Knowing what to expect can make cancer treatment less stressful.

  • Register and fill out paperwork. 
  • Review current medications and your medical, surgical and family history.
  • Have a physical exam and discuss current symptoms.
  • Talk about your cancer’s location and test results. Determine if any additional testing, such as labs, imaging or a tissue sample (biopsy), is necessary. 
  • Discuss cancer staging to learn how much cancer you have and where it’s located in your body. Knowing the stage can help determine your treatment options and how your cancer may react. 
  • Talk about your cancer team. Your oncologists may add other specialists to support your care. 
  • Begin conversations about treatment options with surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.
  • Your oncologist will share the next steps of your care plan.

Questions to ask 

You may have a lot of questions after your primary doctor refers you to an oncologist. Consider reviewing educational resources to learn more about your cancer diagnosis and prepare questions for your first oncology appointment.  

What type of cancer do I have?

There are many types of cancer. Your oncologist will help you understand your diagnosis and how treatment could affect everyday life for you and your loved ones. When you’re ready to share the difficult news, learn how to talk to your kids about cancer

What are the side effects? 

Everyone reacts differently to cancer treatment. Side effects happen when treatment harms healthy cells. The severity of your side effects may vary depending on the type of cancer treatment. 

What are my cancer treatment options? 

Your care plan will be unique to your diagnosis. Cancer treatments include: 

  • Cancer surgery can remove cancer from your body. Cancer experts will help you prepare for surgery and support your recovery.
  • Chemotherapy uses medicine through an injection, an intravenous (IV) line, a pill or a liquid to eliminate the cells causing cancer. You may experience some side effects of chemotherapy, such as fatigue, mouth sores, nausea or hair loss. 
  • Radiation therapy uses radiation to kill cancer cells and shrinks tumors. Side effects of radiation treatment may include fatigue, loss of appetite, pain, diarrhea, skin irritation and nausea.
  • Targeted therapy includes immunotherapy and hormone therapy. Targeted therapy side effects include fever, chills, pain, inflammation and fatigue. 
  • Clinical trials can help medical experts discover new approaches to prevent, detect and treat cancer. If you’re interested in participating in a clinical trial, ask your oncologist to learn more. 

Will I survive cancer? 

Your chances of survival depend on the type of cancer, which stage, your age, how cancer responds to treatments and other factors affecting your overall health. You’ll have ongoing discussions with your oncologist about how cancer affects your outlook (prognosis).  

How can I take care of myself
during treatment? 

Cancer treatment can make it difficult to be your best for loved ones and everyone counting on you. Your oncologist may recommend support services to help your mental and physical wellbeing. 

Learn how whole person care can improve your overall mental and physical wellness before, during and after cancer treatment. 

Should I consider cancer rehabilitation?

Your cancer team may recommend cancer rehabilitation to address how cancer and cancer treatment affect everyday life. Cancer rehabilitation helps you build strength, reduce pain, ease discomfort and regain function.

Who’s on my cancer care team? 

If you feel anxious or scared before your first appointment, you’re not alone. Your oncologist and a dedicated team of cancer experts will explain your options and answer questions from your first appointment through treatment. Your team may include a medical oncologist, a radiation oncologist and a surgical oncologist. 

Cancer treatment is more manageable with a personalized team dedicated to your goals. Learn about other cancer experts who may support your treatment. 

What happens after cancer treatment?

Your treatment plan continues with personalized follow-up care from your oncologist, specialty cancer team and primary care provider to ensure you’re doing everything possible to stay cancer-free.   

Cancer experts focused on you

There are many cancer centers across Minnesota and Western Wisconsin. When you need cancer care that fits your life, consider Allina Health Cancer Institute. A team of cancer experts will help you meet every moment, giving you more time with loved ones and fewer hurdles from your diagnosis through treatment. 

Request an appointment today.



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