How to Make Cancer Treatment Decisions | Cancer Champions

1 in 3 of us will either directly or indirectly face a cancer diagnosis.  That statistic suggests a diagnosis is relatively common. However, every individual cancer diagnosis is unique.  No two people have the exact same type of cancer, social situation, overall physical characteristics, values, and preferences. And because no two scenarios are the same, each person needs to feel comfortable and confident when making cancer treatment decisions. The question is: where do you start?  

Below are some important (yet simple!) steps you can take as you begin the cancer treatment decision-making process.  

Making Cancer Treatment Decisions

Making Cancer Treatment Decisions


After you receive a cancer diagnosis, you will be faced with a myriad of decisions about your cancer treatment.  Anxiety, unfamiliar words, clinical statistics, and a sense of urgency make these decisions difficult.  But unless you’re facing an emergency,  the first step is to reflect on what is important to you. You must identify the characteristics that reflect what a “good treatment plan” looks like for you.   

So, how do you do that? Well, start by asking yourself the following:

  • What am I most hopeful for from my treatment decision? 
  • Is there a type of support I’d like to have around during treatment? 
  • What kind of environment would I feel most comfortable receiving treatment in? 
  • Do certain characteristics make me feel comfortable and confident in my healthcare team? 
  • Am I anxious? If so, what about? 

Understanding Your Diagnosis 

The next phase of your cancer treatment plan depends on the following:

  • The type of cancer. 
  • Where the cancer is located. 
  • The stage of cancer.
  • The tumor’s genomic profile.

In order to know which treatment options are best, your healthcare team will need to know the type of cancer and where it started. 

Treatment options depend on these two pieces of information, and they vary depending on the stage and genomic profile. What does that mean? Well, the stage defines the size and extent of the disease. Additionally, the genomic profile is the next-generation sequencing of your tumor.  This report is ordered by your physician and utilizes tissue from your biopsy to identify potential targets for immuno-oncology treatments.  

An example of this would be cancer that has spread throughout the body, as it will likely require systemic therapy (given throughout your body), rather than a surgical option.

Research and Understand Your Cancer Treatment Decisions and Options

Based on your situation, what are your options? Ask yourself the following:

  • Is chemotherapy an option? 
  • Or is radiation an option? 
  • Is surgery an option?
  • Are you a candidate for immuno-oncology?
  • What is the best treatment plan for you based on your goals and vision of treatment?

The predicted course of cancer, based on the type and stage, will help you understand the goals of treatment.   For some, the goal will be a cure and for others, it may be to live well with their cancer. It’s important to be an active participant in cancer treatment decision-making.  Ask your healthcare team about what you can expect from each of the proposed treatment options.

Some additional questions to consider:

  • What are the short and long-term side effects of the treatment? 
  • Are the side effects reversible?
  • How will the treatment affect my daily life and activities? 
  • How much benefit can I expect to realize from the treatment? 
  • Why are they recommending this treatment option? 
  • How did they come to this decision? 

Understand The Goals of Cancer Treatment Decisions and Options

There are typically two goals of therapy, to cure cancer or to control cancer.   

During your conversation with your physician, it is important to know if the goal of treatment is curative (eliminating cancer) or palliative (controlling cancer).    

A curative treatment plan goal is to eliminate cancer and may also include palliative and supportive care.  

On the other hand, palliative care is a specialized arm of the cancer care team that provides expertise in specific areas of supportive care. This ensures you maintain good health and the ability to mitigate any side effects while undergoing treatment. 

A palliative treatment plan is one where eliminating cancer from your body is unlikely. However, treating and controlling cancer for as long as possible is the desired outcome.  There are many new treatments and therapies that can control cancer for long periods of time. These treatments deem “living with cancer” a realistic and manageable goal. 

Understand the Risks and Benefits of Cancer Treatment Decisions

There are side effects associated with every treatment. However, they can vary in severity and frequency.  Sometimes, the side effects of treatment can cause long-term side effects that may last for months (sometimes years) after treatment. 

Before making your decision about which option is best for you, consider the risks and benefits: 

  • What is the chance of cure/long-term control? 
  • Are there likely short and long-term side effects?
  • What is the likelihood of cancer returning after treatment?
  • Will a second cancer develop as a result of treatment?
  • What will the effect of treatment have on my independence and daily activities?
  • Are there financial side effects to this treatment? How much will it cost me out of pocket?

 Understand the Clinical Statistics 

Often physicians use statistics when describing treatment options.  You may hear them refer to disease-free survival, survival rates, and progression-free survival rates.  Generally, these statistics help determine how treatment options differ. However, they do not predict how well an option will work for YOU.   It’s important to remember that you are not a statistic. 

Get a Second Opinion

It is not uncommon for people with cancer to seek a second (or even a third) opinion before making a cancer treatment decision. Different oncologists, surgeons, and radiation specialists have additional expertise in their areas of research. Their input can help you make informed cancer treatment decisions that support your overarching goals. 

Top-Rated Cancer Patient Advocate

To help flatten the curve when making cancer treatment decisions – consider soliciting the help of an expert. As your decision-making partner, our guidance will assure you make cancer treatment decisions with confidence

Soliciting a professional health consultant/ private advocate with subject matter expertise in cancer and navigating cancer diagnosis is just the person to help you do that. Although cancer is common, every family’s circumstance is unique. Contact Dana for a complimentary call. We’d love to help you flatten your curve.