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8 Questions to Ask Before Every Test Your Doctor Runs

Sometimes it seems like the tests never end.

When your doctor tells you that you need another test it’s important for you to understand why. Next time you hear, “We need to run another test,” ask these eight questions, the answers should help you generate useful dialogue between you and your doctor. 

  1. What is the purpose of this particular study or test?
  2. What do the results mean?
  3. How will the results influence my treatment?
  4. Will I need any more tests or studies?
  5. How frequently will I need a test or study done?
  6. What would be the possible risks if I decide to limit the number of tests I have?
  7. The potential benefits?
  8. Are there any limitations or possible errors with this test or study?

To illustrate what this dialogue may sound like between you and your doctor I’ve provided two different scenarios. In the first scenario I have just told the patient that I have found a lump in her breast. The test I would like to run is a mammogram.

  1. What is the purpose of this particular study or test?
    As your providers we need to further evaluate if what I found is a mass in your breast.
  2. What do the results mean?
    Most of the time a mammogram will confirm a finding of a mass or lump.
  3. How will the results influence my treatment?
    If we do find the mammogram is abnormal we will need to conduct a biopsy.
  4. Will I need any more tests or studies?
    If the mammogram is inconclusive you may need to have more imaging/pictures taken through repeat mammogram or an ultrasound or MRI of your breast.
  5. How frequently will I need a test or study done?
    We may need to repeat the mammogram in a few weeks or few months depending on the severity of the situation.
  6. What would be the possible risks if I decide to limit the number of tests I have?
    If you decide to limit the number of tests you could potentially delay/miss diagnosis and treatment.
  7. The potential benefits?
    Any early diagnosis typically means a better chance for a cure.
  8. Are there any limitations or possible errors with this test or study?
    A small percentage of patients/cases could be missed despite extensive testing because there is always a limitation to certain tests/technology. The more complete the evaluation, the better chance to have the right diagnosis and prompt treatment.

If that same patient gets an “abnormal mammogram” I would then recommend to the patient that we biopsy the tissue.

  1. What is the purpose of this particular study or test?
    A biopsy will tell us if the affected region is cancer or not cancer.
  2. What do the results mean?
    The results will tell us whether the affected region is benign, suspicious, or cancer.
  3. How will the results influence my treatment?
    In most cases a benign finding would need no more treatment; a suspicious finding would need either a repeat biopsy or close monitoring; a cancer or malignant finding would possibly need surgery. Sometimes, chemotherapy before surgery could also be considered depended on the size and location of the lump.
  4. Will I need any more tests or studies?
    If there is an abnormal lymph node found either by physical exam or mammogram, further CT scan would also be considered.
  5. How frequently will I need a test or study done?
    If we decide to repeat the biopsy due to a suspicious finding we would do so right away. If we decide to closely monitor you we will most likely recommend a mammogram or MRI in 1~3months or 3~6months pending level of suspicion.
  6. What would be the possible risks if I decide to limit the number of tests I have?
    If you decide to limit the number of tests you could potentially delay/miss diagnosis and treatment.
  7. The potential benefits?
    We will be able to initiate appropriate treatment in a timely fashion and best treat the disease which means a better chance for early diagnosis and cure.
  8. Are there any limitations or possible errors with this test or study?
    At times a biopsy may not provide an adequate sample amount meaning we can miss the real diagnosis.

Remember, as the patient your understanding is the most important thing. If you don’t like the way a question was answered or you want more information, ask it again, as many times as you need to.

Editors Note: The examples provided in this post are fictional and do not reference an actual patient. If you find yourself undergoing the same tests be sure to ask your doctor about your specific situation.

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