When deciding on your cancer treatment explore your options and discuss them with your doctor. Working together is a good way to feel more in control of your disease and more comfortable as you move forward with your treatment.
Before you get started
- Decide how much you want to know. While most people want to know exactly what their treatment is and their chances of survival, others don’t. If you don’t want to know all the details, let you doctor know, and you and your doctor can create a strategy that is right for you.
- Decide how you will make your treatment decisions. You might want to gather all the information you can and take the lead in the decision-making process. Or you might want to turn all decisions over to your doctor. You may be somewhere in the middle, sharing the decision-making process with your doctor.
- Have realistic expectations. Your doctor can give you estimates about what your can expect to get from each type of treatment. But what you choose to do with these estimates is up to you. Exactly what side effects you may be willing to put up with will depend on what the benefits of the treatment are likely to be. Communicate your preferences with your doctor.
- Keep the focus on you. Don’t let anyone pressure you into a particular treatment option. Pick the treatment plan you feel most comfortable with.
- Accept help. You’ll need support throughout your journey. Support can come from your doctor, the medical staff, your friends, or your family. Additionally, a trained mental health professional can assist you with individual counseling or group support.
Setting your goals for treatment
Depending on the type and stage of your cancer, your goals for treatment might be:
- Cure. When you’re first diagnosed, it’s likely you will be interested in treatments that cure cancer. When a cure is your goal, you may be willing to endure more short-term side effects of treatment in return for the chance at a cure.
- Control. If your cancer is at a later stage or if you’ve tried unsuccessful treatments previously, you might adjust your focus and have as your goal the control of your cancer. Different treatments may attempt to temporarily shrink or stop your cancer from growing. If this is your goal, you might not be willing to endure the side effects of harsher treatments.
- Comfort. If you have an advanced stage cancer or one that has not responded to treatments, you might decide that comfort is most important to you. You and your doctor will work together to make sure you are free of pain and other symptoms.
Analyze the benefits versus the risks
Compare the benefits and risks of the different cancer treatments to decide which treatments fall within your goals. Rate the treatments you’re considering based on the pros and cons of each. Some aspects you’ll want to consider for each treatment include:
- Side effects. Each treatment has its own set of side effects. Take time to review the side effects and decide whether they’ll be worth enduring or too much to handle. Your doctor can give you a good idea of how common the various side effects are for each treatment, and explain options for managing side effects to make treatment more tolerable.
- How treatment affects your life. Will treatment mean a day off of work or several weeks off? How will your role in your family change? Will you need to travel far from home for your treatment? These are just some of the questions you may have to ask yourself. Look at how treatment will affect your everyday life.
- Financial costs of treatment. Investigate what types of treatment will be covered by your insurance provider. If a specific treatment or aspect of a treatment is not covered, you may have to ask yourself if you can afford it. Call your insurance company if you’re unsure about what treatments are covered.
- Your health in general. If you have health conditions, ask your doctor how treatment will affect those conditions. You’ll want to consider the impact cancer treatment will have on any other treatments you are receiving when making your decision.
Communicate with your doctor
Effective communication with your doctor is the best way to make sure you’re getting the information you need to make an informed decision. To make communication easier, try to:
- Speak up when you don’t understand. If you need further explanation or clarification, tell your doctor. If you don’t speak up, your doctor may think you understand everything that was discussed.
- Write your questions in advance. Appointments can be stressful and emotional. Don’t expect yourself to remember all the questions you want to ask.
- Bring someone with you. If you feel comfortable sharing your medical information with a friend or family member, bring someone with you to your appointments to take notes for you. Then you’ll have another person with whom you can talk through your treatment decisions.