How treatment is planned

After you have been diagnosed with secondary breast cancer, a team of healthcare professionals will meet to discuss your treatment options. This is called a multidisciplinary team (MDT) and will include specialists in treating breast cancer.

Treatments have both advantages and disadvantages, which your specialist will discuss with you. You will need to give permission (consent) before doctors can start your treatment.

You can also choose not to have treatment. Try not to feel rushed into making a decision. If you decide not to have treatment, you will be given supportive (palliative) care with medicines to control any symptoms.

Try taking a friend or relative to your appointments as they can help you remember the discussion. You may also find it useful to make a list of questions before your appointment to make sure you get the information you need.

Planning your 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.

How does an MDT work?

How the team is organised will depend on where you live - they may be slightly different across the UK. Some MDTs discuss patients from different hospitals. Specialists may be on teams for a number of different types of cancer.

How often an MDT meets may also vary. This could mean that you have to wait a bit longer to get all the results of your scans and a treatment plan from your doctor. This can be frustrating and worrying - but the pooling of different types of expertise should mean the best possible decisions are made about your treatment and care.

If waiting for results is making you anxious, you may find it helpful to talk about how you’re feeling with a partner, your family or close friends. You can also talk things over with one of our cancer support specialists.

Benefits and disadvantages of treatment

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.

Giving your consent

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 advantages and disadvantages
  • any significant risks or side effects
  • any other treatments that may be available.

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.

Back to Who will be involved in my treatment decision?

Talking to your healthcare team

Talking to your healthcare team can make it easier to cope. If you find talking difficult, there are things you can do.

Getting a second opinion

There are many reasons for wanting a second opinion about your treatment. Speak to your specialist or GP.

Making a complaint

Talking to your healthcare team can make it easier to cope. If you find talking difficult, there are things you can do.