Planning treatment for secondary breast cancer
In some hospitals a team of specialists may meet to discuss and to decide on the best treatment for you.
This multidisciplinary team (MDT) may include:
an oncologist (cancer specialist) who specialises in giving chemotherapy, radiotherapy, hormonal therapy and targeted therapy
a specialist breast care nurse who gives information and support
a specialist surgeon (if needed)
a doctor or nurse who specialises in controlling symptoms
a radiologist who analyses x-rays and scans
a pathologist who advises on the type and extent of the cancer.
It may also include other healthcare professionals, such as a physiotherapist, dietitian, occupational therapist, psychologist, social worker or counsellor.
Your specialist will discuss treatment options with you. Remember to ask questions about anything you don’t understand or feel worried about. You can discuss the benefits and disadvantages of different treatments with your specialist doctor or nurse. You can also talk to our cancer support specialists.
The benefits and disadvantages of treatment
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Many people are frightened at the idea of having cancer treatments, particularly because of the side effects that can occur. However, these can usually be controlled with medicines. Treatment can be given for different reasons and the potential benefits will vary depending upon your individual situation.
Usually treatments for secondary breast cancer can help to keep the cancer under control, relieve the symptoms and help you to live for longer.
However, there may be a time when the treatment has little effect on the cancer and women get treatment side effects without any of the benefits. Making treatment decisions in these circumstances is always difficult, and you may want to talk it over carefully with your cancer doctor, specialist nurse and family. If you decide not to have treatment, you will be given supportive (palliative) care, with medicines to control any symptoms.
Your multidisciplinary team (MDT) uses national treatment guidelines to decide the most suitable treatment for you.
Even so, you may want another medical opinion. If you feel it will be helpful, you can ask either your specialist or GP to refer you to another specialist for a second opinion. Getting a second opinion may delay the start of your treatment, so you and your doctor need to be confident that it will give you useful information. If you do go for a second opinion, it may be a good idea to take a relative or friend with you, and have a list of questions ready, so that you can make sure your concerns are covered during the discussion.
Before you have any treatment, your doctor will explain its aims. They will usually ask you to sign a form saying that you give permission (consent) for the hospital staff to give you the treatment. No medical treatment can be given without your consent, and before you are asked to sign the form you should be given full information about:
the type and extent of the treatment
its benefits and disadvantages
any significant risks or side effects
any other treatments that may be available.
‘I think everybody is different, what you’ve got and where you’ve got it is different, how you react to the treatment.'
If you don’t understand what you’ve been told, let the staff know straight away, so they can explain again.
Some cancer treatments are complex, so it’s not unusual to need repeated explanations.
It’s a good idea to have a relative or friend with you when the treatment is explained, to help you remember the discussion. You may also find it useful to write a list of questions before your appointment.
People sometimes feel that hospital staff are too busy to answer their questions, but it’s important for you to know how the treatment is likely to affect you. The staff should be willing to make time for your questions.
You can always ask for more time if you feel that you can’t make a decision when your treatment is first explained to you.
You are also free to choose not to have the treatment. The staff can explain what may happen if you don’t have it. It’s essential to tell a doctor or the nurse in charge, so they can record your decision in your medical notes. You don’t have to give a reason for not wanting treatment, but it can help to let the staff know your concerns so they can give you the best advice.