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Some people are happy to have whatever treatment their doctor recommends, but others like to know as much as possible before starting any course of treatment.
The treatment that’s appropriate for you will depend on your type of cancer| and where it is in your body. You may be offered surgery|, radiotherapy|, chemotherapy|, hormonal therapies|, biological therapies or a combination of treatments. Treatment is often given to relieve symptoms and improve quality of life. This is sometimes called palliative or supportive treatment.
It’s usually possible to take a bit of time to think about your treatment options, and discuss them with the people closest to you and the doctors and nurses looking after you. Your cancer specialist (oncologist) is the best source of accurate medical information. In many hospitals, specialist nurses are available to talk over all the possible benefits and side effects of treatment, and whether you want to have further treatment or not.
Remember that the treatment is designed to be for your benefit. It’s important that you make the decision that feels right for you about which treatment, if any, you want to have, even if your family or doctors may recommend otherwise.
It can be difficult to remember the questions you want to ask your doctor - it may help to make a list before your next appointment. Some people find it useful to record the discussion with their doctor (with their doctor’s permission). Recordings can also be helpful for family and friends to listen to, so that you don’t have to keep repeating information. Alternatively take a friend or family member with you. As well as giving support, they may be able to take notes for you, or remind you of any questions that you want to ask.
Some people wonder whether complementary or alternative therapies can help them when they are told that their cancer can’t be cured.
Complementary and alternative therapies are often grouped together, but there are important differences between them based on how and why they are used. Often a treatment can be complementary if used in one way and alternative if used in another.
Complementary therapies| are most often used alongside conventional therapies such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy. They aren’t used to treat the cancer itself but can play an important part in reducing anxiety and controlling symptoms, alongside conventional medicines for symptom control|. Some people also use complementary therapies to improve their emotional and physical health.
While complementary therapies are generally used in addition to conventional treatments, the term alternative therapy is often used to refer to treatments that are used in place of these treatments.
Some alternative therapists claim that their therapies can cure cancer even if conventional medicines haven’t been able to do so. But no alternative therapies have been proven to cure cancer or slow its growth. Unfortunately there have been cases in which false claims made about alternative therapies have led patients to turn away from conventional treatments that could have helped them.
If you’ve been told by your doctors that the cancer can’t be cured, this can be very hard to accept and you may look to an alternative therapy. However, if a cancer can’t be cured by conventional medical treatment, it’s equally true that it won’t be cured by alternative treatment. In this situation, some alternative therapies may do no harm, but some can cause serious side effects and make people feel unwell. Many alternative therapies can also be expensive.
Only you can decide whether or not to use alternative cancer therapies. If you decide to use an alternative therapy, it’s important to check it’s safe and to check the credentials of the therapist offering the treatment.
Most doctors are happy for their patients to use complementary therapies. But it’s important to tell your doctor if you’re using any complementary or alternative therapies, as some may make conventional cancer treatments less effective or increase their side effects.
Our cancer support specialists can answer any questions you might have about complementary or alternative therapies.
Content last reviewed: 1 September 2011
Next planned review: 2013
For answers, support or just a chat, call the Macmillan Support Line free (Monday to Friday, 9am-8pm)
If you have any questions about cancer, need support or just want someone to talk to, ask Macmillan.
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© Macmillan Cancer Support 2013
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