- Cancer Information
- Advanced cancer
- Living with advanced cancer
- Treatment for advanced cancer
- Making treatment decisions
Making treatment decisions
Sometimes it’s difficult to decide on whether to have treatment for advanced cancer. Some people choose treatment even if it offers only a small benefit for a short period of time. Others want to make sure the expected benefits outweigh the side effects so that they have the best quality of life.
Some people decide not to have active treatment for the cancer, but to treat symptoms to reduce pain and discomfort. You may want to consider what quality of life means to you.
Perhaps you would choose chemotherapy if it meant you could have two good weeks each month. Or you might value being able to spend as much time as possible with family and friends, without the disruption of treatment.
Understanding the disease, available treatments and possible side effects can help you weigh up the pros and cons of different treatments and make a well-informed decision that’s based on your personal values. You can also discuss the options with your family and friends or with your doctor, or call Cancer Council 13 11 20.
Learn more about:
- Know your options
- Record the details
- Ask questions
- Consider a second opinion
- Talking about treatment decisions
- Should I join a clinical trial
Understanding the disease, the available treatments and possible side effects can help you weigh up the options and make a well-informed decision.
When your doctor first tells you that you have advanced cancer, you may not remember everything you are told. Taking notes can help you or your might like to ask. It is a good idea to have a family member or friend go with you to appointments to join in the discussion, write notes or simply listen.
If you are confused or want to check anything, it is important to ask your specialist questions. Try to prepare a list before appointments. If you have a lot of questions, you could talk to a cancer care coordinator or nurse.
You may want to get a second opinion from another specialist to confirm or clarify your doctor’s recommendations and reassure you that you have explored all of your options. Specialists are used to people doing this. Your GP or specialist can refer you to another specialist and send your initial results to that person. You can get a second opinion even if you have started treatment or still want to be treated by your first doctor. You might decide you would prefer to be treated by the second specialist.
Discussing the kind of care you might want in the future can be difficult. However, talking to your family about this can help them if you become too sick to make decisions, and they need to make decisions about your health care for you. Palliative Care Australia has developed a discussion starter that can help you reflect on your preferences for care and talk about them ask your family. See Dying to Talk Discussion Starter.
For some people with advanced cancer, taking part in a clinical trial may be a way to have new therapies. Doctors run clinical trials to test new or modified treatments and ways of diagnosing disease to see if they are better than current methods. For example, if you join a randomised trial for a new treatment, you will be chosen at random to receive either the best existing treatment or the modified new treatment. Over the years, trials have improved treatments and led to better outcomes for people diagnosed with cancer. You may find it helpful to talk to your specialist, clinical trials nurse or GP, to get a second opinion. If you decide to take part in a clinical trial, you can withdraw at any time. For more information, visit, Australian Cancer Trials.
For more on this, see Clinical trials and research.
Prof Nicholas Glasgow, Head, Calvary Palliative and End of Life Care Research Institute, ACT; Kathryn Bennett, Nurse Practitioner, Eastern Palliative Care Association Inc., VIC; Dr Maria Ftanou, Head, Clinical Psychology, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, and Research Fellow, Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, The University of Melbourne, VIC; Erin Ireland, Legal Counsel, Cancer Council NSW; Nikki Johnston, Palliative Care Nurse Practitioner, Clare Holland House, Calvary Public Hospital Bruce, ACT; Judy Margolis, Consumer; Linda Nolte, Program Director, Advance Care Planning Australia; Kate Reed- Cox, Nurse Practitioner, National Clinical Advisor, Palliative Care Australia; Helena Rodi, Project Manager, Advance Care Planning Australia; Kaitlyn Thorne, Coordinator Cancer Support, 13 11 20, Cancer Council Queensland.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.
Click below to download a PDF booklet on this topic.