- Cancer Information
- When you are first diagnosed
- Emotions and cancer
- Your coping toolbox
- Making decisions
After a cancer diagnosis, you will probably need to make a number of decisions. These could include which treatments to have, how to involve or care for your family and friends, whether or when to return to work, and what to do about finances.
Know your options
Understanding the disease, the available treatments, possible side effects and any extra costs can help you weigh up the options and make well-informed decisions.
Take your time
Check with your specialist how soon treatment should begin. If it is safe to wait a while, use that time to think about your decisions. Generally, people find it easier to make decisions (and have fewer regrets later) if they take time to gather information and think about the possible consequences.
Get expert advice
Ask your health professionals to clearly explain your treatment options, and the benefits and side effects of each.
Social workers can advise you and your carer about non-medical concerns such as financial assistance, how to get extra help at home, and support for relationship or emotional difficulties. You can also call Cancer Council 13 11 20 for information and support.
Write it down
Organising your thoughts on paper is often easier than trying to do it in your head. Start by identifying the purpose of the treatment (is it to cure the cancer, to control it or to be as comfortable as possible?), then list the pros and cons of each treatment option. You could rate how important each point is on a scale of 1–5, considering the short-term and long-term effects on you and others.
Talk it over
Discuss the options with those close to you, such as your partner, family members and close friends. You may feel worried about how your decisions will affect them, so hearing their opinions could put your mind at rest. Sometimes, however, you might prefer to talk to someone neutral, such as a member of your treatment team or one of the health professionals at Cancer Council 13 11 20.
Consider a second opinion
Some people ask for a second opinion from another specialist to confirm or clarify their specialist’s recommendations or just for reassurance that they have explored all the 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 specialist. You might decide you would prefer to be treated by the second specialist.
Use a decision aid
Decision aids are online or printed resources that help you choose between treatment options by answering a series of questions and focusing on what matters most in your own case.
There are decision aids for certain cancer-related issues (e.g. whether to have breast reconstruction) − ask your treatment team if a decision aid is available for your situation.
Expect to experience doubts
Being unsure does not mean you have taken the wrong path. Reassure yourself that you made the best decisions you could with the information you had at the time. Asking yourself, “Did I make the right decisions?” is rarely useful. Also, decisions are not always final – it may be possible to change your mind even after you have already started down a particular treatment path.
Remember it’s your decision
Adults have the right to accept or refuse any treatment that they 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. You may want to discuss your decision with the treatment team, GP, family and friends.
For more on this, see Cancer care and your rights.
Dr Anna Hughes, Liaison Psychiatrist and Psycho-oncologist, Canberra Region Cancer Centre, Canberra Hospital, ACT; Mary Bairstow, Senior Social Worker, Cancer Centre, Fiona Stanley Hospital, WA; Anita Bamert, Psychologist, Cancer Council Queensland, QLD; Kate Barber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Victoria, VIC; Sally Carveth, Assistant Coordinator, Cancer Support Leader Program, Cancer Council NSW; Matt Featherstone, Consumer; Dr Charlotte Tottman, Clinical Psychologist, Allied Consultant Psychologists and Flinders University, SA; Shirley Witko, Senior Social Worker, Comprehensive Cancer Centre, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, WA.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.
Click below to download a PDF booklet on this topic.
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Practical advice and support during and after treatment