Lyndal Trevena, Professor of Primary Health Care, University of Sydney
The thing about cancer is that it can be hard to know if you are making the right decisions about your treatment.
How much choice do you actually have? How do you know you have explored all your options? And once you know the options, how do you decide the best way forward?
In this episode of The Thing About Cancer podcast, Julie sits down with Professor Lyndal Trevena to tackle these questions, and much more.
As a practising GP, Lyndal is well placed to talk about these issues. She has spent many years guiding patients with cancer and doing research about how patients make decisions.
– Professor Lyndal Trevena
Answering the big questions
Lyndal answers many important questions on cancer treatment choices.
Questions like: What kinds of things do doctors weigh up when choosing the right treatment? How do you know you’re seeing the best specialist for your cancer? Who makes up your multidisciplinary team? What is a multidisciplinary team?
Lyndal explains that a multidisciplinary team is made up of the health professionals who will treat and support you through your cancer treatment. Your team might include a surgeon, radiation oncologist, medical oncologist (who prescribes drugs), pathologist, nurses, social workers, your GP, and other healthcare professionals.
Everyone’s situation is unique, and treatment options vary
What if your cancer can be treated with two or more options? For example, if you have early prostate cancer, you may have a choice between surgery and radiation therapy. Women with early breast cancer may be offered the option of removing just the lump (lumpectomy), but some will still choose to remove the whole breast (mastectomy).
What if you have advanced cancer? Should you continue with intensive treatment or concentrate on supportive treatment?
When it comes to cancer, every situation is unique – so although it can be helpful to learn about someone else’s cancer experience, your treatment pathway may be very different, even if you have the same cancer type.
And sometimes, it’s not just the person with cancer that has an opinion about the treatment pathway – partners and families can also get involved, and may sometimes take a different view to the person who is actually undergoing the treatment. In this episode, Lyndal explores this scenario, and different ways to approach these sensitive topics with the people closest to you.
Throughout the entire journey, always seek support
Cancer can be confronting, and you may often feel overwhelmed as you see doctors and weigh your treatment options. So it’s a good idea to take a friend or partner with you to appointments to take notes. Another option is to ask the doctor if you can record the conversation on your smartphone.
You can also use a question checklist, such as those found at the back of Cancer Council’s Understanding Cancer booklets and on the website of the Cancer Institute NSW.
What about second opinions?
Of course, when you get diagnosed with cancer, there can be an urgency to start treatment. But what if you want a second opinion? Will you do yourself damage if you wait? Will you offend your specialist?
Lyndal tells us that it’s important to feel as sure as possible, and there is usually time to get more than one perspective and even do your own reading.
Getting reliable information
In this podcast, you’ll find out how to find information on your treatment options, online and offline. This can be confusing in the age of the internet, when there’s so much digital content out there – what’s reliable, and what’s not? Lyndal suggests going to Cancer Council NSW and other reliable sources – and also dispels some myths about alternative therapies that claim to treat cancer.
And what if you have cancer, but live in a remote area? Lyndal tells us the different options out there if you have cancer and live far from a major city.
The podcast also looks at weighing up side effects against the benefits of treatment, but explains that there are now much more effective ways to manage the side effects of cancer treatment. Lyndal also explains what clinical trials are, and how you can access them as a possible treatment pathway.
Want more information or support?
If you heard something mentioned in the podcast, you’ll find a link for it below. We’ve also added links to other sources of information and support.
From Cancer Council NSW
- Cancer treatment – information about chemotherapy, radiotherapy, surgery and other cancer treatments therapy, immunotherapy and targeted therapies, can also be used for some types of cancer
- Making treatment decisions – outlines the steps in making an informed decision about cancer treatment
- Easy-to-read information about cancer – cancer types, treatments and issues
- Cancer Council 13 11 20 Information and Support service – call 13 11 20 Mon–Fri, 9am–5pm, to talk confidentially to a health professional about anything to do about cancer
- Cancer Council support for people coping with cancer – information and support online, in person and via phone
- Cancer Council Online Community – a supportive online community for people affected by cancer
From other organisations
- Cancer Directory – online directory of trusted Australian cancer care publications
- Canrefer – find cancer specialists and services near you
- Optimal care pathways – a step-by-step guide to treatment for different types of cancer
- Cancer Institute NSW – question prompt lists for people with cancer (in 20 languages)
- Cancer Council Australia – clinical guidelines and reliable information for cancer patients
- Cancer Australia: Clinical best practice – clinical guidelines and reliable information about cancer
- Cancer Australia: Australian Cancer Trials – search for a clinical trial