Making Treatment Decisions

Many people believe that making treatment decisions is one of the most difficult times during the cancer experience. The information can seem foreign, overwhelming and almost too much to bear at first. An oncology nurse and/or oncology social worker can be an important resource for information and support. If you and your loved one are having difficulty understanding or making a decision about treatment, consider setting an appointment with the nurse or social worker to talk through your options. Try to think about your questions together ahead of time. Make time after the appointment to talk about what you both heard. 

The first step in making a decision about treatment is reaching an agreement with the doctor about the goal(s) of treatment. Encourage your loved one to have this discussion with the oncologist so that you both have a clear sense about the purpose of the treatment options being offered. The proposed treatment(s) may be recommended primarily to: 

  • cure (eradicate the disease) 
  • control/slow the tumor growth over an extended period of time 
  • provide comfort and relieve symptoms

It is important to understand treatment side effects for each option. It is critical to weigh the potential side effects against the benefits of treatments before a decision is made. In general, treatment options presented by the oncologist will be based upon the specific type and stage of cancer that your loved one is facing, his or her overall health, and available resources. It is useful to ask the doctor if a clinical trial would be an appropriate or preferable treatment option. Clinical trials are research studies of promising new treatments or combinations of treatments. Ask your physician or visit www.cancer.gov/clinicaltrials for more information. 

The good news is that for every stage and type of cancer, there are many valuable treatment options.

Second Opinions 

It is a standard recommendation that cancer patients obtain a second or even third opinion about their diagnosis and treatment options. If you and your loved one agree, ask his or her oncologist to recommend another oncologist or cancer center for a second opinion. When seeking additional opinions, be sure to find an oncologist with expertise in your loved ones specificcancer who is covered by your insurance plan. Once a second opinion is obtained, your loved one can receive treatment from the doctor with whom he or she feels most comfortable. 

A Note About Fertility 

For men or women who wish to have children in the future, fertility preservation is an important issue to consider before treatment. There are strategies to plan for fertility preservation if infertility is a possible long-term side effect, so it is important to discuss this question with the oncologist before treatment decisions are made.

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