Making treatment decisions

It is good to think about the possible benefits and disadvantages of cancer treatment to help you make the right decision for you.

Decisions about treatment

There are a number of things to consider when you are about to make a decision about treatment. It is good to think about the possible benefits and disadvantages of treatment to help you make the right decision for you. There are no right or wrong answers.

Many people are frightened at the idea of having cancer treatments, particularly because of the side effects. But 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.

Your doctors will not be able to give you any treatment until you have given your consent.

Making your decision

You may feel overwhelmed by all the information you have been given. Or you may feel under pressure to do what you think your relatives and friends want.

It may help to think about how you approached big decisions in the past:

  • Are you guided by your first impressions and instincts?
  • Do you usually need to think things through for a long time?
  • Do you make a decision alone or after discussing it with other people?

If you can, do something different to distract you from making the decision. Taking a short break may help you look at all the information with a fresh approach. You may find it helps to talk through your options with your family or friends.

If you need to decide quickly, it may help to get a good night’s sleep and then make the decision the next day.

Booklets and resources

Help with making a decision

If you are having trouble deciding, talk to your family and friends. They may be able to simplify things for you. You can also make an appointment to see your doctor or specialist nurse to talk to them again.

You could write a list of the benefits and disadvantages of the treatment you have been offered.

Try to think about:

  • the aim of the treatment
  • how successful the treatment is likely to be
  • the possible side effects
  • how often you will need to go to the hospital and for how long
  • the effects of the treatment on your family and social life
  • the effects on your work and finances.

These are just examples. It is important to take time to make your decision. This will be hard if doctors want to start treatment soon. But it is important that you have time to think about the information you have and ask more questions if you need to. 

Your healthcare team may suggest a decision aid to guide you through your choices. Your doctor or nurse can talk to you about this.

How will you know if you have made the right choice?

There is no right or wrong decision. People make different choices for different reasons.

The most important thing to remember is that the decision you make is the right one for you at the time. No one can say exactly what will happen in the future. It is likely that there will always be some uncertainty.

You may find you change your mind over time. How you feel now may be different from how you felt a few weeks or months ago. You may also feel different in the future.

As your situation changes, your choices may change too. Your healthcare team will support you and will respect the choices you make.

If the cancer cannot be cured

If a cure is not possible and treatment aims to control the cancer, it may be difficult to decide whether to go ahead.

If the cancer is advanced and has spread to other parts of the body, treatment may be able to control it, improving symptoms and quality of life. However, for some people in this situation the treatment will have no effect on the cancer and they would get the side effects without any of the benefit.

Making decisions about treatment in these circumstances is always difficult. You may need to discuss in detail with your doctor whether you wish to have treatment. If you choose not to have treatment, you can have supportive (palliative) care to control any symptoms.

Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum

Our cancer information meets the PIF TICK quality mark.

This means it is easy to use, up-to-date and based on the latest evidence. Learn more about how we produce our information.