Making decisions about treatment

Sometimes it is difficult to make decisions about what is the right treatment for you. You may feel that everything is happening so fast that you do not have time to think things through. It is important not to be rushed into a decision; it must be the right one for you.

While some people feel they are overwhelmed with information, others may feel that they do not have enough. Understanding your illness, the possible treatment, and side effects will help you to make your own decisions.

If you are offered a choice of treatments you will need to weigh their advantages and disadvantages. You may want to ask your doctor whether the benefits of treatment outweigh the side effects.

If only one type of treatment is recommended, ask your doctor to explain why other treatment choices have not been advised.

Talking with doctors

You may want to see your doctor a few times before making a final decision on treatment. It is often difficult to take everything in, and you may need to ask the same questions more than once. You always have the right to find out what a suggested treatment means for you, and the right to accept or refuse it.

Before you see the doctor, it may help to write down your questions. There is a list of questions at the end of this booklet, which may help you. Taking notes during the session can also help. You may find it helpful to take a family member or friend with you, to take part in the discussion, take notes, or simply listen. Some people find it is helpful to record the discussion.

“My only advice is to talk about it. Be very careful because some people are very forceful. If you listen to everyone the right advice may become apparent whilst the unusual advice will be the stuff you ignore.” Rita

Talking with others

Once you have discussed treatment options with your doctor, you may want to talk them over with someone else, such as family or friends; specialist nurses; your family doctor; the Cancer Society; the hospital social worker or chaplain; your own religious or spiritual adviser; or another person who has had an experience of breast cancer. 

Two people looking at the Cancer Society's publications

Photographer: Louise Goossens.

Talking it over can help you to sort out what course of action is right for you. Family and friends will often give you advice about breast cancer treatment. This can be helpful, but remember “your cancer is your own”. They may be giving you advice about a situation that is different from yours.

A second opinion

You may want to ask for a second opinion from another specialist. Your specialist or general practitioner can refer you to another specialist and you can ask for your records to be sent to the second doctor.

You may be interested in looking for information about breast cancer on the internet. While there are very good websites, you need to be aware that some websites provide wrong or biased information.

We recommend that you begin with the recommended websites at the end of this section.

Taking part in a clinical trial

Research into the causes of breast cancer and into ways to prevent, detect, and treat it is ongoing. Your doctor may suggest that you consider taking part in a clinical trial.

Clinical trials are a vital part of the search to find better treatments for cancer, and are conducted to test new or modified treatments and see if they are better than existing treatments. Many people all over the world have taken part in clinical trials that have resulted in improvements to cancer treatment. The decision to take part in a clinical trial is always yours.

If you are asked to take part in a clinical trial, make sure that you fully understand the reasons for the trial and what it means for your treatment. Before deciding whether or not to join the trial, you may wish to ask your doctor:

  • Which treatments are being tested and why?

  • What tests are involved?

  • What are the possible risks or side effects?

  • How long will the trial last?

  • Will I need to go into hospital for treatment?

  • What will I do if any problems occur?

  • If the treatment I receive on the trial is successful for my cancer, is there a possibility of carrying on with the treatment after the trial?

If it is a randomised trial, you will be chosen at random to receive one treatment or the trial treatment, but either treatment should be appropriate for your condition. You won’t be able to choose from the treatments offered. In clinical trials, people’s health and progress are carefully monitored.

If you join a clinical trial, you have the right to withdraw at any time. Doing so will not jeopardise your treatment.