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Making treatment decisions

The results of your diagnostic tests and procedures will give your healthcare team the information they need to finalize the best treatment plan for you. Treating cancer is complicated. Sometimes there is a recommended treatment or combination of treatments that has the clearest chance of success. Or you may be given a choice between different treatment plans that have similar chances of success, if there isn’t a medical reason for you to have one rather than the other. Your healthcare team can give you information about your treatment options and answer your questions about them.

It may surprise you that you have to make any decisions at all. But whether you are given one option or a few options, it is up to you to agree to have treatment and agree to a treatment plan. This is usually described as giving consent. If you do want to have treatment but you don’t want to be involved in treatment decisions, consent can mean simply agreeing to the plan that your healthcare team recommends.

In most cases, your healthcare team will give you a few days before you have to let them know if you are going to have treatment and which option you choose. But with some cancers, especially acute leukemia, treatment must be started right away, usually as soon as the diagnosis is made.

Tips to help you make a decision

Becoming active in your healthcare helps you understand what is happening. But it can be very hard to make a choice about something as important as your treatment. These tips may help guide you while making your decision.

Make a list of your options. Write down the names of the treatment options that your healthcare team recommends. Ask them to spell any words that you don’t know. Check that you understand what each treatment will include and what the differences between the treatments are.

The treatment options that your healthcare team suggests for you are the best ones for your situation. Try not to compare your situation to other treatment situations that you have heard about or that well-meaning family and friends tell you about. Sometimes people who have the same cancer will be given different treatments. Some people may be given just 1 treatment, while others may receive 2 or 3 types of treatment. Everyone is different.

Get information about each option. Gather as much information about each treatment option that you think will help you make a decision, including:

  • short-term and long-term side effects, and how they can be managed
  • how long the treatment will take
  • if you have to travel for treatment
  • how the treatment may affect your family and work
  • whether the treatment will affect any other health conditions you may have
  • what treatment options might be available if the one you choose does not work

You may also want to know what the survival rates are for your type of cancer and how each treatment option may change this rate. Or you may decide that you don’t want this information. If you don’t want this kind of information, let your healthcare team know.

Compare the pros and cons of each treatment. Write down the positive points (pros) and the negative points (cons) for each treatment option. It’s easiest to compare them if you write them on a single sheet of paper with a line drawn down the middle. On one side write the pros, and on the other write the cons.

Think about what’s important to you. You are the one having treatment, so you need to be comfortable with what you decide. Family and friends may give you a lot of information, advice and suggestions on what treatment you should choose. Don’t feel pressured to make a choice that doesn’t reflect what’s important to you.

You may want to look at the pros and cons while thinking about what is most important to you.

  • Do you want a shorter treatment, because you want to get back to your routines as quickly as possible?
  • Which side effects concern you most?
  • Are you willing to accept one long-term side effect over another?
  • Does one treatment give you more peace of mind around the cancer not returning?
  • How do you feel about having to travel for treatment?

Talk it over. Talking about your treatment decision can help organize your thoughts and feelings. You may want to go over the information you’ve gathered with your partner, other family members or a close friend.

It may also be helpful if you can talk to people who have had the different treatment options for your type of cancer to learn more about their experiences. Keep in mind that another person’s choice may not be the right choice for you, and you may not have the same experiences during or after treatment.

Take some time to make your decision. Once you’ve looked at all the information you need to make your decision, take some time away from it. Try not to think about it, and find something else that can take your mind off the decision for a while.

If you must let your healthcare team know quickly, take a night to sleep on your decision and see how you feel about it in the morning.

Make your decision. When you are comfortable with your choice, let your healthcare team know which option you have chosen. Remember that there is no right or wrong choice – you are making the best choice for you at this time.

There is no way of knowing what will happen in the future. If your situation changes, you may have to make different decisions about your treatment. There is a chance that the cancer may come back after the treatment you chose, but this doesn’t mean you made the wrong choice. It may have come back even if you had made a different treatment choice.

What about complementary therapies?

You may be thinking about using a complementary therapy to help you feel better while you are having cancer treatment. Complementary therapies – for example, massage therapy or acupuncture – are often used to help ease tension, stress and other side effects of treatment. They don’t treat the cancer itself. Find out more about complementary therapies.

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