Making Decisions About Cancer Treatment

March 19, 2012
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In this podcast, we talk about some practical steps that may help you make important decisions about your cancer treatment.


You’re listening to a podcast from Cancer.Net. This cancer information website is produced by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, known as ASCO, the world’s leading professional organization for doctors that care for people with cancer.

Today we’ll discuss making decisions about cancer treatment.

After being diagnosed with cancer, there will be many decisions you and your family will need to make about cancer treatment. These decisions are complicated by unfamiliar words, statistics, and a sense of urgency. It’s important to allow some time to research your options and ask questions. Decisions about cancer treatment are personal, and you should feel comfortable about your decisions.

In this podcast, we’ll talk about some practical steps that may help you make these important decisions.

The first step is to learn about your cancer. Try to understand your type of cancer and its stage, which is a way of describing where it is located and whether it has spread to other parts of the body. It you’re not familiar with certain medical words you come across in your research, ask your doctor or nurse, or use a medical dictionary. 

Another good step is to talk with your doctor about the treatment options for your type and stage of cancer. People with cancer are often surprised to learn that they may have several different treatment options. Some people find it helpful to look at cancer statistics when making treatment decisions. However, it’s important to note that statistics such as survival rates may be a good way to learn about how the treatment options differ, but they can’t predict how well the treatment will work for you.

And, it is important to understand the goals of your specific treatment plan. Often, the main goal of treatment is to slow, stop, or eliminate the cancer. Another treatment goal, called palliative or supportive care, involves relieving a person’s symptoms and side effects. This includes supporting the patient with his or her physical, emotional, and social needs.

When talking about the goals of treatment, you should also ask about the risks and benefits of each treatment option. Different treatments have different risks, as well as potential side effects. As you weigh the positives and negatives of each treatment approach, it’s important to consider both short-term and long-term factors, such as the chance that the cancer will recur or come back after treatment, the chances of living longer with or without treatment, the possibility of side effects, and your personal preferences.

Once you have learned about your diagnosis and your doctor’s treatment recommendations, consider getting a second opinion about your treatment options. Many people find that it helps to get a second -- or even third -- opinion from another oncologist, and many doctors encourage it. Different oncologists have different experiences with various treatments, and seeking multiple opinions may help you make a decision.

Next, it’s important to consider whether you’ll need help managing the cost of cancer care. Your health care team can help you identify costs related to your treatment options, suggest ways to help reduce or manage medical costs, and refer you to support services that address financial difficulties you may face.

Another good step is to check out whether ASCO and other cancer organizations publish guidelines and treatment decision-making tools about your specific diagnosis. These resources help doctors and patients understand various treatment options. Some cancer centers offer statistical tools you can use with your doctor to help determine the best treatment options based on your personal medical information.

And, finally, talk about your treatment decisions with people you trust. This may include family members, friends, an oncology social worker, or members of a cancer support group. What you decide is ultimately up to you, but many people find it helpful to talk through their concerns with others before making a final decision.

Making decisions about your cancer treatment can be complicated. However, by working through these specific steps, it may help you feel more confident about your decisions.      

For more information on making treatment decisions and finding decision-making tools, talk with your doctor or visit Thank you for listening to this Cancer.Net podcast.