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Benefits and disadvantages of cancer treatment

If you are offered a choice of treatments, you will need to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of each treatment. If only one type of treatment is recommended, ask your doctor to explain why other choices have not been offered.

Some people with more advanced cancer will choose treatment, even if it only offers a small chance of cure. Others want to make sure the benefits of treatment outweigh any side effects. Still others will choose the treatment they believe offers them the best quality of life.

Some people may choose not to have treatment to eradicate cancer, but instead will choose to have symptoms managed to optimise their physical and emotional well-being. You may wish to discuss your options with you treatment team, family and friends, or with a counsellor, psychologist or psychiatrist.

Questions you may want to ask include:

  • What’s the best we can hope for by trying another treatment? What is the goal?
  • Is this treatment plan meant to help side effects, slow the spread of cancer, or both?
  • Is there a chance that a new treatment will be found while we try the old one?
  • What’s the most likely result of trying this treatment?
  • What are the possible side effects and other downsides of the treatment? How likely are they?
  • Are the possible rewards bigger than the possible drawbacks?

It is important to ask your health care team what to expect in the future. It’s also important to be clear with them about how much information you want to receive from them.

If you feel that you would like to stop treatment, but your family or your partner does not want you to, it might help for you and your doctor or a counsellor or psychologist to talk to your family or your partner about their feelings.

Second opinion

You may want to get a second opinion from another specialist. Some people feel uncomfortable asking their doctor for a second opinion, but specialists are used to patients doing this.

A second opinion can be a valuable part of your decision-making process. It can confirm or clarify your doctor’s recommended treatment plan and reassure you that you have explored all of your options. A second specialist can also answer any questions you may still have.

Your original specialist or family doctor can refer you to another specialist and you can ask for your initial results to be sent to the second-opinion doctor.

It may take some time and effort to gather your medical records and see another doctor. In most cases, it’s not a problem to take several weeks to get a second opinion. The delay in starting treatment usually will not make treatment less effective. To make sure, you should discuss this delay with your doctor.

You may later decide you would prefer to be treated by the doctor who provided the second opinion, and this is your right.

You can ask for a second opinion even if you have already started treatment or still want to be treated by your first doctor.