Making treatment decisions
Whether you have just been diagnosed with cancer or have cancer that has spread or come back, you will have to make a number of decisions about your treatment. It can be difficult to decide on the type of treatment to have. Ask your specialist to explain all the options and take as much time as you can before making a decision.
You have the right to accept or refuse any treatment you are offered. For example, some people with advanced cancer choose treatment that has significant side effects even if it gives only a small benefit for a short period of time. Others decide to focus their treatment on quality of life. Becoming informed about your options can help you and your specialist jointly decide on a treatment plan that is right for you.
|If you’re having trouble deciding on the best cancer treatment pathway, listen to our podcast Making Treatment Decisions.|
Learn more about:
- Gathering information
- Decision-making steps
- Treatment guidelines
- Getting a second opinion
- Taking part in a clinical trial
- Giving informed consent
- Advanced care planning
Making sure you understand enough about the disease, the available treatments, possible side effects and any extra costs can help you weigh up the options and make a well-informed decision. You may feel that everything is happening so fast that you don’t have time to think things through. You have the right to delay your decision until you feel you have had enough time to consider all your options. Check with your specialist how soon treatment should begin – often it won’t affect the success of the treatment to wait a while.
It is a good idea to have a family member or friend go with you to specialist appointments to join in the discussion, write notes, ask questions or simply listen. If you are confused or want to check anything, it is important to ask your specialist questions. Try to take a list of questions to the appointment.
You might like to ask if you can record the consultation – some treatment centres provide recording equipment, or you might have to take your own (many mobile phones have a recording function).
Each person’s situation is different – not everyone with the same type of cancer will make the same decisions about treatment. It may help to:
- weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of each treatment, and whether it will help you meet your treatment goals
- ask if other treatments are an option (if only one type of treatment is recommended)
- consider how side effects might affect you, especially if they will have an impact on your lifestyle, sexuality, fertility, or ability to work; if you have a partner, it may help to discuss any side effects with them
- find out more about the treatment choices offered to you by speaking to your specialist, cancer care coordinator or Cancer Council 13 11 20; getting a second opinion; contacting cancer support groups; and talking to family, friends or people who have had the same cancer
- share your concerns with your doctor or the treating hospital if you’re not happy with the information you are given or how it is given (see Health care complaints for more information).
Toni Ashmore, Cancer and Ambulatory Services, Canberra Health Services, ACT; Baker McKenzie, Pro Bono Legal Adviser, NSW; Marion Bamblett, Acting Nurse Unit Manager, Cancer Centre, South Metropolitan Health Service, Fiona Stanley Hospital, WA; David Briggs, Consumer; Naomi Catchpole, Social Worker, Metro South Health, Princess Alexandra Hospital, QLD; Tarishi Desai, Legal Research Officer, McCabe Centre for Law and Cancer, VIC; Kathryn Dwan, Manager, Policy and Research, Health Care Consumers Association, ACT; Hayley Jones, Manager, Treatment and Supportive Care, McCabe Centre for Law and Cancer, VIC; Victoria Lear, Cancer Care Coordinator, Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, QLD; Deb Roffe, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA; Michelle Smerdon, National Pro Bono Manager, Cancer Council NSW.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.
Click below to download a PDF booklet on this topic.
Coping with cancer?
Speak to a health professional or to someone who has been there, or find a support group or forum
Need legal and financial assistance?
Pro bono services, financial and legal assistance, and no interest loans
Looking for transport, accommodation or home help?
Practical advice and support during and after treatment