Making treatment decisions

Sometimes it is difficult to decide on the right treatment. You may feel that everything is happening so fast you don’t have time to think things through, but there is usually time to consider what sort of treatment you want.

Waiting for test results and for treatment to begin can be difficult. While some people feel overwhelmed by information, others want as much information as they can find. Making sure you understand enough about your illness, the treatment and its side effects will help you make your own decisions.

  • If you are offered a choice of treatments, you will need to weigh up their advantages and disadvantages. Consider how important any side effects are to you, particularly those that affect your lifestyle.
  • If you have a partner, you may also want to talk about treatment options with them. You can also talk to friends and family.
  • If only one type of treatment is recommended, ask your doctor to explain why other treatment choices have not been offered.

You have the right to accept or refuse any treatment.

Some people with more advanced cancer will choose treatment, even if it only offers a small chance of cure. Others want to make sure the benefits of treatment outweigh any side effects so they have the best possible quality of life. Some people may choose options that don’t try to cure the cancer but make them feel as well as possible.

Talking with doctors

When your doctor first tells you that you have cancer it is very stressful and you may not remember much. You may want to see the doctor a few times before deciding on treatment.

The following tips may help you:

  • Ask your doctor for a simple explanation of words you don’t understand.
  • Before an appointment, write down your questions.
  • Take notes or record the discussion. Tell your doctor if you plan to do this.
  • Take a family member or friend with you to discuss the issues, take notes, or simply listen.

A second opinion

Getting a second opinion from another specialist may be valuable because:

  • it can confirm or clarify your doctor’s recommendations
  • it can reassure you that you have explored all your options.

Some people feel uncomfortable  asking their doctor for a second opinion, but specialists are used to patients doing this.

Your doctor can refer you to another specialist and send your initial results to that person. You can get a second opinion even if you’ve started treatment or still want to be treated by your first doctor.

You have the right to decide to be treated by the doctor you prefer.

Taking part in a clinical trial

Your doctor may suggest you consider taking part in a clinical trial. Doctors conduct clinical trials to test new or modified treatments to see if they are better than current treatments. Over the years, clinical trials have improved cancer treatment standards and led to better outcomes for patients.

If you are unsure about joining the trial, ask for a second opinion from an independent specialist.

If you decide to join a randomised clinical trial, you will be given either the best existing treatment or a promising new treatment. You will be chosen at random to receive one treatment or the other.

Being part of a trial gives you important rights. You have the right to withdraw at any time; doing so will not jeopardise your treatment for cancer.