Cancer AnswerLine: the top ten questions

CAL group FBHave you ever wondered what type of questions you can ask the Cancer AnswerLine™? Our service is for anyone who has been affected by cancer and we accept any questions related to cancer that are appropriate. Sometimes we may not have the answers and this may be because there isn’t an answer to the question. For example, “What causes cancer?” No one knows the exact cause of most cases of cancer.

These are the most frequently asked questions, along with our Cancer AnswerLine™ answers:

1. How do I make an appointment with a specialist at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center (U-M CCC)?

For assistance in getting that first appointment, we invite you to contact the Cancer AnswerLine™. The type and stage of cancer, prior treatment and a number of other factors determine which specialists and clinics are most appropriate for a patient’s current situation. For this reason, it is often best to speak directly with a Cancer AnswerLine™ nurse at 1-800-865-1125.

2. Will I have to wait a long time to get an appointment and what is the cost of a second opinion appointment?

The wait time for an appointment will vary from clinic to clinic; however, every effort is made for the patient to be seen within one or two weeks. For extremely urgent problems, an earlier appointment may be arranged by your doctor through our Physician Consultation and Referral Service, M-LINE. Have your doctor call 1-800-962-3555.

Because each person’s situation is unique, the fees associated with a second opinion can vary from one patient to another. We cannot give you an estimate of the costs. In may help you to understand that patients will get separate bills for services received at the U-M  – one for professional fees (services provided by  doctors, nurse practitioners, doctor assistants, social workers, etc.) and one for hospital fees (supplies, laboratory tests, treatment rooms, drugs, etc.). There are separate fees for pathology (biopsy slides) and radiology (X-rays, CT, MRI and other imaging studies). These costs vary considerably depending on the number of slides, films and other tests that need to be evaluated or read by our doctors.

3. What can the U-M CCC offer to patients that they may not find elsewhere?

What you will receive are the resources of a National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center. This is important to you because it means the U-M CCC has passed a national review that documents its excellence in cancer research, education and public information. Only 68 centers in the country have earned this distinction. We have:

  • More than 300 doctors and researchers with expertise in virtually all types of cancer in 24 specialized and multidisciplinary cancer care clinics.
  • State-of-the-art diagnosis and treatment including new therapies that may not yet be available in your community.
  • Everything you might need for your recovery: diagnosis, treatment, psychosocial support, pain management, rehabilitation and assistance in returning to your life after cancer.

4. All of my medical records are available to send to the U-M CCC. Do I still have to make an appointment for a second opinion?

Yes, you will have to schedule an appointment at the U-M CCC and travel to Ann Arbor, Michigan for your appointment. Our specialty doctors will offer an opinion only after they have examined the patient and viewed the original pathology slides, X-ray films, CT or MRI scans and other relevant medical information.

5. How do I know if I should get a second opinion?

Seeking a second opinion is a personal choice. There are several important reasons to consider another opinion; however, the main reason most patients seek a second opinion is reassurance that the first opinion is correct, and that all treatment options have been explored.

6. I have these symptoms…. (i.e. swollen lymph nodes, fatigue, change in bowel habits) – do I have cancer?

Although Cancer AnswerLine™ is staffed by registered nurses, we are not able to diagnose or offer an opinion on any health problem or disease.

Signs and symptoms can have many possible causes. A physical exam and complete health history by a qualified professional are essential to making any diagnosis. Only a doctor can evaluate the problem you describe, determine its significance and decide what action, if any, is needed.

But you should also know that the following symptoms may be associated with cancer:

  • changes in bowel or bladder habits
  • a sore that does not heal
  • unusual bleeding or discharge
  • thickening or lump in the breast or any other part of the body
  • indigestion or difficulty swallowing
  • obvious change in a wart or mole
  • a nagging cough or hoarseness
  • recent change in wart or mole or any new skin change
  • white patches inside the mouth or white spots on the tongue
  • unexplained weight loss
  • fatigue
  • pain
  • skin changes – (yellowish skin, excessive hair growth, itching, reddened skin or skin that starts to look darker)

7. I don’t have any insurance, will the U-M pay for my cancer care?

Many people do not have full insurance coverage, and some have no coverage at all. When this is the case, there are two main options: deferred payment plans with the U-M Health System, or other sources of financial assistance depending on your ability to meet eligibility requirements.

The UMHS Financial Counseling Service is available to assist with making payment arrangements or establishing financial support. Call 877-326-9155 for more information.

8. My friend, family member has late stage cancer, how long does he/she have to live?

Many factors affect a person’s prognosis. Some of the most important are the type and location of the cancer, the stage of the disease (the extent to which the cancer has metastasized or spread), and its grade (how abnormal the cancer cells look and how quickly the cancer is likely to grow and spread). Other factors that may affect a person’s prognosis include the patient’s age and general health or the effectiveness of treatment.

The doctor who is most familiar with a patient’s situation is in the best position to discuss the prognosis and to explain what the statistics may mean for that person. At the same time, it is important to understand that even the doctor cannot tell exactly what to expect. In fact, a person’s prognosis may change if the cancer progresses or if treatment is successful.

9. My family member/friend lives outside the United States, can he/she get cancer treatment at the U-M CCC?

Yes, your family member/friend can receive treatment at the U-M CCC. However, we do not offer a review of medical records without traveling to our Cancer Center. You may want to contact the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in your home country to determine specific fees and documentation required for a nonimmigrant visa.

10. What type of treatments do you offer?

A wide range of state-of-the-art treatment options are available in the form of surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, immunotherapy, combinations of these and other therapies such as clinical trials. Our patients have access to the highest quality treatments, often before they are available elsewhere.

Do you have other cancer related questions? Please feel free to call the Cancer AnswerLine™ at 800-865-1125.


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The Cancer AnswerLine™ nurses are experienced in oncology care, including helping patients and their families who have questions about cancer. These registered oncology nurses are available by calling 800-865-1125 Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. Your call is always free and confidential.


CCC 25 years button150x150The University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center’s 1,000 doctors, nurses, care givers and researchers are united by one thought: to deliver the highest quality, compassionate care while working to conquer cancer through innovation and collaboration. The center is among the top-ranked national cancer programs, and #1 in Michigan for cancer patient care. Seventeen multidisciplinary clinics offer one-stop access to teams of specialists for personalized treatment plans, part of the ideal patient care experience. Patients also benefit through access to promising new cancer therapies.