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Cancer treatment decisions: 5 steps to help you decide
Step 4: 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. Take time to review the side effects of each treatment 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. Consider how treatment will affect your everyday life. Will you need a day off work or several weeks off? How will your role in your family change? Will you need to travel for your treatment?
- The financial costs of treatment. Investigate what types of treatment will be covered by your insurance. If a treatment or aspect of a treatment isn't covered, can you afford it? Call your insurance company to be sure.
- Your health in general. If you have other health conditions, ask your doctor how treatment will affect those conditions. For example, corticosteroids are commonly used in people with cancer. This could complicate diabetes treatment and affect your risk of cataracts, hypertension and osteoporosis.
Your personal values and goals will make a difference in what treatments are best for you. Only you can decide what type of treatment will fit best in your life. But you don't have to make a choice and stick with it. It's very possible that you may change your mind during treatment, and that's fine.
Step 5: 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 communicating with your doctor 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.
- Write your questions in advance. Appointments can be stressful and emotional. Don't expect to remember all the questions you want to ask.
- Record your conversations. Try to keep track of what your doctor tells you by taking notes. You might also ask if it's OK to record the conversation on a recorder. This record will be a good reference if you have questions later.
- Bring someone with you. If you feel comfortable sharing your medical information with a friend or family member, bring along someone to take notes. Then you'll have another person you can talk through your treatment decisions with.
- Keep copies of your medical records. Ask for copies of your medical records and bring them to each appointment.
Don't expect you and your doctor to fully understand each other after one meeting — it may take a few conversations before you both feel as if you're on the same page.
Other things to keep in mind
As you're making your treatment decisions with your doctor, keep these points in mind:
- Take your time. Although a cancer diagnosis might make you feel like you have to make immediate decisions to begin therapy, in most situations you have time to make choices. Ask your doctor how much time you have to decide.
- You can always change your mind. Making a treatment decision now doesn't bind you to that option. Tell your doctor if you're having second thoughts. Significant side effects may make you want to change your treatment plan.
- You can seek a second opinion. Don't be afraid of offending your doctor if you want to get a second opinion. Most doctors understand the need for a second opinion when facing a major decision.
- You don't have to be involved with treatment decisions. If you prefer, tell your doctor you'd rather not be involved in the decision-making process. You can always get involved later when you feel more comfortable with the situation. Let your doctor know who you want to make decisions about your care.
You don't have to have treatment. Some people choose not to have treatment at all. People with very advanced cancers sometimes find they'd rather treat the pain and other side effects of their cancer so that they can make the best of the time they have remaining.
If you choose not to be treated, you can always change your mind. Forgoing treatment doesn't mean you'll be left on your own — many ways of controlling side effects exist.
Which treatment is best for you? There's no 100 percent right or wrong answer. But being involved with your treatment plan may give you greater peace of mind and can let you focus your energy on what you need to do most — keeping yourself healthy throughout your treatment.Previous page
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- Self-advocacy: Participating in your cancer care. Cancer.Net. http://www.cancer.net/all-about-cancer/cancernet-feature-articles/cancer-basics/self-advocacy-participating-your-cancer-care. Accessed March 21, 2013.
- Zafar SY, et al. Decision making and quality of life in the treatment of cancer: A review. Supportive Care in Cancer. 2009;17:117.
- Blank T, et al. Understanding treatment decision making: Context, commonalities, complexities and challenges. Annals of Behavioral Medicine. 2006;32:211.
- Communicating with your health care team. CancerCare. http://www.cancercare.org/publications/6-communicating_with_your_health_care_team. Accessed March 21, 2013.
- Moynihan TJ (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. April 4, 2013.