Frequently Asked Questions


What is an oncologist?
Your oncologist is a physician, or doctor, focused on cancer. Your oncologist works with other types of doctors and cancer care professionals throughout the process of diagnosing and treating you for cancer.

This type of doctor specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. Oncologists in Stanford’s Cancer Program have years of training and experience in cancer care. The treatments we offer include:

  • Surgery to remove all or part of cancer tumors, or all or part of the affected body areas
  • Radiation therapy using high-energy radiation to destroy or prevent the spread of cancer cells
  • Drug therapy such as chemotherapy, targeted therapy, and other medical therapies (medications that travel through the bloodstream to treat cancer anywhere in the body)

What is comprehensive care?
At Stanford, our team members hold subspecialty training in the latest tools and techniques for cancer diagnosis and treatment. This additional, highly specific training within cancer education means that your care team has broad and deep experience in cancer care.

What is an academic medical center?
Stanford is an academic medical center, a type of hospital setting in which doctors teach medical students as they complete their schooling and training. Because Stanford is a teaching hospital, you may meet many doctors and doctors in training affiliated with the Stanford University School of Medicine.

Throughout your care in the Stanford Cancer Program, you will have a board-certified doctor as your attending physician. This fully credentialed doctor has complete responsibility for your care and works with you to make all of your care decisions.

Our medical students accompany attending physicians as part of their training. This team approach provides contact with patients to prepare them as medical professionals.

What is magnet recognition?
Stanford Health Care has earned magnet status from the American Nurses Credentialing Center. This organization awards magnet recognition for excellence and innovation in nursing practice and quality patient care.

What is our connection to the National Cancer Institute?
The Stanford Cancer Center is designated as a Comprehensive Cancer Center by the National Cancer Institute. The cancer teams at these centers use the knowledge they gain from research to treat cancer more effectively. The National Cancer Institute is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Learn more at

From patients

How can I deal with my anxiety and fear? How can I cope?
Call Cancer Care Services at 650-498-6000 to speak with us about how we can support you and your family members. Cancer Care Services is Stanford’s system of services that support physical, mental, and emotional healing and well-being.

We can help you identify professional therapists, services, and resources that are personalized to the needs of you and your family. Many of these services are free for Stanford patients and families.

Can my family member or friend attend my appointment?
Yes, always feel free to bring someone with you to your appointments. A family member or friend can help ask questions, write down and remember information your care team gives you, and provide support.

Can I record my discussion with my doctor during my appointment?
Yes. Just let your care team know that you would like to record your conversation. Another good way to keep track of your care team discussion is to keep notes (bring a pencil or pen and your Patient & Family Resource Guide, which has a notes section). A family member or friend can attend your appointments to take notes for you.

My children are having a hard time coping with my diagnosis. How can I help them?

The decision about whether and how much to share with your children is personal. Call Cancer Care Services at 650-498-6000 to learn about the support available for your family members.

We can help you decide on an approach for involving your family that is right for you. In addition to our services at Stanford, some of our patients and families have recommended other websites for children and teens with parents who have cancer:

What is an advance health care directive? Where do I get one?

An advance health care directive is a legal document you can complete. It specifies the kind of care and treatments you want (or don’t want) if you become seriously ill and can’t make such decisions yourself.

In California, an advance health care directive allows you to designate an agent, or someone you trust to make health care decisions on your behalf. You can also list your health care instructions. You can ask your doctor, nurse, social worker, or other health care provider for more information.

At Stanford, advance health care directive forms are available in the hospital units and at the clinics. You can also call our Spiritual Care Service at 650-723-5101 to get a form or discuss a directive with one of our spiritual care counselors.

What should I expect after treatment?
Our Cancer Survivorship Program will help you adjust and cope with your new lifestyle after treatment for cancer. You’ll speak with Advance Practice Providers (APPs), survivorship experts who specialize in working with people with cancer and their families.

We help you and your family transition from diagnosis to wellness through a variety of psychosocial services, in addition to medical care. Call 650-498-6000 or visit

Whom can I talk to about my work and job during treatment?

Our social workers can help you plan ways to manage your job during cancer care. Call Cancer Care Services at 650-498-6000 to speak with us about your work-related concerns. We can help you with completing disability paperwork, finding financial assistance, and taking a leave of absence from your job during treatment.

From family members and caregivers

How can I offer support during medical appointments or treatment?

You can provide support to a loved one receiving care in many ways. You can help with day-to-day activities such as accompanying them on doctor visits or preparing food, for example. You can also coordinate care and services by phone or email.

For coping, often the best support you can provide is helping your loved one work through feelings. Talk with your loved one, listen, or just be present. Although you may naturally feel inclined to put your own feelings and needs aside, it’s important to take care of yourself as well. Call Cancer Care Services at 650-498-6000 to speak with someone about seeking support for your loved one and yourself.

How do I balance the needs of the patient with my own needs?
Finding a balance between your loved one’s needs and your own can feel challenging. As much as possible, continue the activities that you did before diagnosis. Ask family members, friends, neighbors, and community members to help. They can provide support when you need a break.

I’m exhausted. Whom can I talk to about my feelings?
Remember that you are not alone – you can find support among other caregivers. We offer workshops, support groups, and other programs for people who have cancer and their caregivers. Talk with your care team or call Cancer Care Services at 650-498-6000 for more details about our cancer supportive care programs at Palo Alto and South Bay.

How do I tell my family and friends about the diagnosis? How do I answer all the questions people ask me?
Only you and your loved one can decide the right time and the right words to tell family and friends about the cancer diagnosis. Family and friends may have a wide range of reactions, from wanting to know more details to giving advice to not knowing how to react at all. Talking with family and friends about the cancer diagnosis can help them provide support.

Some of our patients recommend websites where you can create personal, privacy-protected pages for your loved one’s health journey:

  • CaringBridge allows people to share updates, photos, videos, and words of encouragement. You can also schedule help with everyday tasks such as meals, carpools, errands, and appointments:
  • MyLifeLine offers the same services as CaringBridge but is designed specifically for people affected by cancer. In addition to the personal page for your family member, you can also find educational and supportive resources for cancer:

What are the side effects of treatment? How do I help manage these side effects?
Common side effects include fatigue, constipation, loss of appetite, and nausea. Specific side effects depend on the type of treatment and medications the patient is receiving.

Your loved one’s care team can prepare you, so you can watch for side effects and help manage them. Ask team members:

  • Which side effects should be reported right away, and how should I report them?
  • Which side effects require a visit to the emergency room?

Keep track of:

  • Date and time that the symptom or side effect started and how long it lasted
  • Description of the side effect or symptom
  • Which symptoms or side effects worsen or become difficult to manage

What hotels are near Stanford if I need to stay overnight?
Your social worker can provide you the most current information on housing and hotels near Stanford’s clinics and hospitals. Call Cancer Care Services at 650-498-3333 or visit ''Where to Stay”.

How can I learn more about my loved one’s condition?
Find answers to your questions about cancer at the Stanford Health Library, with help from professional medical librarians and trained volunteers. We offer free science-based information to help answer your medical questions.

You can access journal articles, books, e-books, databases, and videos to learn more about medical conditions and treatment options at the library. We also provide information on related issues such as coping, caregiving, pain management, and eating. Request a comprehensive literature search on the latest research to answer your specific questions. Stop in or call with your questions:

Email us your questions:

How can I speak to someone about paying for treatment?

Meet with one of our financial counselors to determine the best approach to paying for your health care. Call 650-498-2900 Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Our financial counselors will work with you to:

  • Understand your health insurance coverage and benefits
  • Estimate your out-of-pocket costs for your care at Stanford
  • Connect you with as many resources as possible to help pay for your care
  • Answer your questions about billing and financial assistance, including helping you complete financial applications
  • Find places to stay near Stanford

How can I apply for financial assistance?

Stanford Health Care offers a variety of financial assistance options for uninsured or underinsured patients. Some options require an application, while others do not.

No application is necessary for:

  • Discounts for people who are uninsured (some services may be excluded)
  • No-interest payment plans (balances typically to be paid within 6 months)

You must submit a completed financial assistance application and proof of income for:

  • Financial need discounts at a rate comparable to our government payers (some services may be excluded)
  • Full financial assistance for 100 percent of the patient portion of treatment costs (some services may be excluded)
  • Extended no-interest payment plans for patients who qualify for financial need discounts

You can obtain a financial assistance application form:

Stanford Health Library

For confidential help with your health care questions, contact the Stanford Health Library. Professional medical librarians and trained volunteers can help you access journals, books, e-books, databases, and videos to learn more about medical conditions, treatment options, and related issues.

  • 875 Blake Wilbur Drive, Palo Alto: First floor near the cafe, 650-736-1960
  • South Bay Cancer Center: 2589 Samaritan Drive, third floor lobby, 408-353-0197

Email us your questions: