Frequently Asked Questions


How are cancers staged?

Staging is a numerical system based on the size of the tumor and how much cancer has spread.

The numbers range from Stage 0, where the tumor is tiny and contained, to Stage 4, in which cancer has spread to parts of the body that are distant from the location of the original tumor.

Each type of cancer has unique features that are considered when determining the stage of the disease.

What is HPV?

Human papillomavirus can cause cancer and genital warts. HPV is spread by human contact, but most people don't know they have it.

Some strains of HPV can cause cancer of the cervix, vagina or vulva in women; cancer of the penis in men; and cancer in the anus or back of the throat in men and women.

How do I quit smoking?

OSF HealthCare offers structured programs to help you stop smoking.

The patient-centered programs include behavioral support from a multidisciplinary team that consists of a counselor, dietitian and cessation specialist.

We will assess your personal smoking situation and help you formulate a quit plan. Smoking cessation programs are offered free of charge.

When will symptoms start?

Symptoms generally surface when a tumor becomes large enough to press against organs, blood vessels or nerves.

You may experience discomfort, pain or a change in bodily functions.

The location of the cancer can also affect how early you begin to experience symptoms.

Some cancers, however, may not produce symptoms in the early stages. 


How will the information get back to my primary care provider?
Your primary care provider is part of your cancer care team. They will be kept in the loop and have access to all communication in your electronic medical record.
If I see a counselor, will my medical record show me as a "mental health patient?"

No. Your medical record appears the same, regardless of whether you see a counselor.

The only identifiers in your medical record will be if your counselor is listed on your care team or if a mental health condition is included in your "Problem List," which provides for your other medical diagnoses.

It's very normal to have fears and anxiety during and sometimes long after a cancer diagnosis. We recognize this and ask each patient to fill out a form known as a distress tool, identifying how we can best support you.

Support is provided in many ways, such as talking with your family, teaching relaxation techniques or just listening.

Don't be ashamed. We are here to support you and help decrease your stress level. And your medical records are always confidential.

Will I get the same care with OSF as I would elsewhere?

OSF HealthCare offers a full range of expertise dedicated to assisting in your care. These include:

Billing and Insurance

How much will this cost?

Treating cancer is expensive, and the costs can vary greatly.

They're determined by many factors, including the type of cancer you have, the course of treatments you need, and more. There are charges for visits with your providers, lab tests, imaging tests, radiation and drugs.

Some cancers may require hospital stays, surgeries, rehab services or home care.

Transportation and lodging costs might also be factors. Insurance will cover some of the cost, but out-of-pocket expenses can be significant.

OSF Cancer Support Services provides a financial navigator to answer your questions and help you find the most affordable options available, and possibly defray some expenses.

Do I pay extra for the support services?

Most support services are free, such as navigation, dietitian and support groups.

If you have concerns about paying for services, please reach out to our financial navigator.


What is a nurse navigator?

A nurse navigator is a registered nurse dedicated to your case to help you navigate the journey from diagnosis through survivorship.

They serve as your educator, advocate and friend, providing you and your family a single point of contact to get questions answered.

Your nurse navigator will assess your individual needs, provide educational resources, assist with coordination and scheduling of appointments, communicate with physicians and other members of your care team on your behalf, conduct follow-up and provide ongoing support.

What kind of questions should I be asking the navigator?

You can cask your navigator anything. If they don't know immediately, they'll find the answer for you. Ask whatever you want to know about your diagnosis and the journey ahead. Typical questions you want to make sure to ask:

  • After diagnosis, what are my next steps?
  • What are my treatment options?
  • What exactly happens with each treatment, and what are the side effects?
  • If there are multiple options, how might each of them potentially play out?
  • How should I handle new symptoms?

Make sure to address any concern you have about potential barriers to treatment, such as transportation. Ask for referrals to support services.

Who is the primary person guiding my care?

That can vary according to the type of cancer you have and how your care plan is set up.

Your multidisciplinary cancer team will confer regularly so everyone stays up to date on your progress.

Ask them whom you should contact to address any questions or concerns you have at each step of your journey.

Why do I need a dietitian?

Good nutrition supports positive symptom management and maintenance of immune health throughout your treatment.

Different cancers and treatments create different dietary needs.

An OSF registered dietitian will identify strategies to maintain good nutrition to meet your specific needs during and after cancer therapy.

They will perform a complete evaluation to assess malnutrition risk while providing recommendations to maintain lean body mass and digestive health. Interventions are modified throughout treatment to respond to your symptoms and specific needs.

Your dietitian will work with your oncologist and other members of your team to provide the best possible care and outcomes.

Why do I need a financial navigator?

The high costs of cancer treatment can create significant burdens that affect your recovery.

Financial distress sometimes leads people to skip treatments or ignore medications, hindering their ability to fight the disease.

A financial navigator can help alleviate much of the stress.

They will meet with your physician, specialists, nurses, pharmacists and others to ensure that your needs are met. They will identify affordable treatment plans, search for free medication programs, work with your insurance providers and look for financial assistance.

This removes that burden from you, so you can focus on recovery.

Why do I need a physical therapist?

Cancer treatments can cause physical side effects that range from dizziness to pain and fatigue, from weakened muscles to loss of mobility.

It's important to your long-term health that you get moving again and work to restore as much normal function as possible.

A physical therapist will help you regain strength and endurance, relieve pain and stiffness in your joints, and reduce atrophy. Increasing physical activity also helps alleviate stress.


Do I need radiation?

About half of cancer patients need radiation therapy – which means about half don't.

The necessity most often is due to the location, size and type of cancer you have. In some cases, there may be alternatives to radiation treatment.

Ask your specialist for other options.

How soon can testing be done?

This depends on what type of testing is needed. We understand timing is of the essence for you, both emotionally and physically.

OSF HealthCare has measures to assist in expediting and coordinating care (nurse navigation, tumor boards, etc.).

How quickly after diagnosis can I start radiation treatment?

Generally, it takes a multidisciplinary team's input to determine whether radiation would be appropriate for you.

Once the team has a radiation consult and simulation, treatment could start within a week or two.

Does it hurt?

No. Radiation therapy and chemotherapy treatments themselves do not hurt. But they do cause side effects, some of which can be painful.

Side effects vary, depending on the cancer being treated, as well as the individual.

Ask your care team about potential side effects, how severe they might be and how to cope with them.

Can I be around my loved ones during treatment?

Most cancer treatments do not require restrictions on your contact with other people.

However, some chemotherapy can suppress your immune system and make you vulnerable to getting an infection. This would require you to limit contact with others.

Ask your cancer care team about precautions necessary with your particular treatment plan.

How long does it take?

The length of cancer treatments varies greatly, depending on the type and stage of your cancer. Treatment plans can last from a few weeks to 18 months or more.

Ask your cancer care team what time frame you might expect.

What are the side effects?

Radiation therapy kills cancer cells, but it can also damage adjacent healthy cells. That causes side effects, the most common being fatigue, hair loss, loss of appetite, nausea and skin irritation and peeling.

Depending on your cancer's size and location, you may experience other side effects, including cough, headaches, sexual dysfunction, shortness of breath, swelling, taste change, trouble swallowing, urinary problems, and more.

Who will help me with long-term side effects?

We encourage you to talk to your cancer treatment team about your individual side effects.

OSF HealthCare offers a wide range of services – dietitian, rehabilitation, etc. – to help you cope.

What do I do if I need help at home or after hours?
Each practice establishes its own office hours and protocols for requesting assistance after hours. Your nurse navigator can help you obtain this information.
What if I want a second opinion?

You are entitled to a second opinion. The most important thing is for you to feel comfortable with your diagnosis and treatment plan.

In some cases, it may be necessary to start treatments immediately, but usually, you will have time to seek a second opinion and more information before proceeding with treatment.

You need to understand what you are facing and all the options available to you. If you want a second opinion, ask.

The American Cancer Society provides excellent information and tips for seeking a second opinion.

What happens if I don't finish treatment?

It's important to finish the recommended treatment.

Discuss your concerns with your provider and the next steps if you are unable to complete treatment.

What precautions do I need to take? How do I prepare for treatment?

Precautions would be based on your diagnosis, but they are generally straightforward.

Your team will provide the information you need.

What does the treatment room look like?

The radiation treatment room is dominated by a large, crescent-shaped machine called a linear accelerator.

As you lie on a table, the linear accelerator moves around you to deliver radiation targeted at your cancerous cells.

A sky scene is projected on the ceiling for you to look at, and music is available to comfort you during treatment.

For chemotherapy, what your treatment area looks like depends on where you’re receiving treatment. Typically you are able to relax in a comfortable, reclining chair and are provided with other things for your comfort, such as snacks or a warm blanket. You can also prepare a chemo bag so you have your favorite things.

Can I continue my normal activities?

For the most part, yes. If there are any restrictions, your provider will discuss them with you.

It's important to maintain your health. Exercise, nutrition and rehabilitation activities are all a part of that process.

What can I eat to keep my strength up?

Our dietitian can meet with you. In the meantime, here are some helpful hints.

Maintaining good nutrition is important as you go through cancer treatment.

Try to eat a healthy, balanced diet and keep hydrated.

As you go through treatment, eating might become difficult, and you may need to change what you are eating.

Be sure to focus on getting enough protein and calories to help keep your strength and energy.

If you are having difficulty eating during treatment, talk to a registered dietitian who can help tailor an eating plan that is best for you.