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Informed consent

Your treatment is your choice and when it comes to having a test, treatment or operation that involves risk, you need to give what is called ‘informed consent’.

Informed consent requires your health practitioner to discuss with you the potential benefits and harms of your treatment options. Before giving your consent to treatment, ask your health practitioner these four questions:

1     What are my treatment options?

The discussion should include information about alternative treatment options, including different types of surgery and treatments. You are also entitled to seek a second opinion. (For more about this go to Second opinion, below).

2     What are the expected outcomes of each option?

Successful treatment can never be absolutely assured and different procedures carry different risks. You need to be aware of the expected outcome of each treatment option, including known complications, so that you can decide which treatment option is best for you.

3     What is the likelihood that each expected outcome will occur?

The likelihood of expected outcomes (success, side effects and/or complications) varies with each treatment option, and with individual patients’ characteristics, but knowing how likely it is that each outcome will occur will help you and your clinician weigh up the benefits and risks to decide which option best suits your needs.

Some procedures that are new or uncommon may not have sufficient research to support meaningful statistics and your doctor will make recommendations based on other information, such as personal surgical experience, training or expert knowledge. Where your doctor is relying on alternative information they should discuss this with you.

4     What is meant by consent to treatment?

Every patient has the right to participate in any decision about their health care or medical treatment. In general, health practitioners are required to inform you of the nature of the proposed treatment and to gain your consent for all treatment, before it starts.

The process and requirements for obtaining consent may vary depending on the patient’s competency and age. However, it will involve the following steps:

1    A discussion about the benefits and risks or each treatment option.

2    The patient decides which treatment option is best for them. Often this decision is shared by the clinician but it is important that you participate to whatever degree you feel able. If you need more time to consider your options or discuss them with family and friends, talk to your doctor.

3    The health practitioner gains the patient’s consent for a specific treatment, having appropriately disclosed any material risks for that treatment.

4    The health practitioner records and documents the consent process.

If you are not sure whether you want to have treatment, ask your treatment team to explain what may happen if you do not have it. For more information about this, see ‘Benefits and disadvantages of cancer treatment’, below.