Making cancer treatment decisions

A South Asian person in her wheelchair takes notes by hand during a meeting.

When you have been diagnosed with cancer, you may have a choice of different treatments you could have. Depending on your diagnosis, you might also be considering whether you would like to have any treatment. Making decisions about cancer treatments for yourself or a loved one can sometimes be difficult. It’s important that you feel you have all the information and support you might need to make the right informed decision for you.

“I have changed my mind numerous times over the last week but I think that I could go on re-evaluating the pros and cons for ever and a day.”

Community member, Prostate cancer forum

It’s natural to have lots of questions about cancer treatment, whether you are a cancer patient or a family member. You might be feeling worried about side effects and quality of life.

Your doctors will not be able to give you any treatment until you have given your consent. As Macmillan mention on our webpage about making treatment decisions, treatment can be given for different reasons. The potential benefits will vary depending upon your individual situation.

Usually, if you have been diagnosed with cancer, a team of health professionals will work together to create a treatment plan they feel is best for you. It’s important to remember you can ask your health care team questions. If you would like some ideas for questions you can ask about treatment, we have lots of example questions on Macmillan’s website. Your health care team have access to your medical records, so they are best placed to answer questions about what is right for you.

If you are unsure about anything to do with your diagnosis or treatment options, you can always ask for another appointment with your GP or consultant. Or you can talk to someone else in your healthcare team, like your specialist nurse. We have some further information on our website around asking for a second opinion.

One of our nurses gave a member some further information around cancer treatment decisions:

“Effective cancer treatment should be about maintaining and improving a person’s quality of life as well as extending it…It is important to remember the consultant will always weigh up the risk versus benefit of treatment for a patient. They will not recommend a treatment that they know would offer more harm than benefit. Talking to your consultant about the worries you are having can help you gain some clarity. You always have the right to question any treatment decision, to ensure you have a full understanding to consent or to decline any treatment offered to you.”

Ask an Expert

Some people may not want to find out more information about their treatment or diagnosis. It is ok to cope with cancer treatments and making decisions in a way which is best for you. This might be harder to deal with if you are a caregiver or family member of someone affected by cancer. You can find out more information on the NHS website about talking to a loved one’s GP about any concerns, if this is necessary.

“It’s difficult to know what to do for the best when someone you love has been diagnosed with cancer. Making decisions about treatments can be hard to do, especially when you’re both feeling overwhelmed and trying hard to cope with his diagnosis. But despite this it’s great that you’re both being proactive and looking to get as much information as you can to help you both.”

Ask an Expert

It can also be helpful to find out more information about different treatment options online. It’s important to make sure you’re getting information from reliable sources. Getting information from reliable sources means you can be sure it is accurate and up to date. Macmillan’s website and Cancer Research UK’s website are good places to find further information. We have linked some pages below you may find useful:

“I’ve now got to decide what the next step is for my treatment. External radiotherapy, brachytherapy and/or chemotherapy! My mind is in a turmoil as to what to decide on. I’ve read all that I can on the subject and side effects. I’d appreciate people’s experiences to help me make a decision”

Community member, Womb cancer forum

Some people also find it helpful to hear other people’s experiences with treatment. Have you thought about asking the Online Community about your cancer treatment choices? You can find all our groups here if you’d like to find a group for your or your loved one’s type of cancer.

“Statistics can be scary ..but we are all different and everyone's cancer is different”

Community member, Lung cancer forum

However, it’s important to remember everyone’s experience with cancer treatment can be different. This can be based on everyone’s individual situation and diagnosis. You may be offered a different type of treatment to someone else for lots of reasons, such as your stage of cancer. You also might not have the same side effects as someone else who is having the same treatment.

“From what I’ve learned from reading on this forum of people's experiences. I would say, trust the professionals and act on their recommendations.”

Community member, Womb cancer forum

Are you currently making a decision about cancer treatment? Talk to other people on the Online Community, or why not give our Support Line a call on 0808 808 00 00. Macmillan Cancer Support are here to help however we can to support you to make an informed decision.

Image used is from the Disabled and here project.