Understanding your treatment options

People often want to be more involved in decisions about their health and care. It is important to have all the information you need about the cancer and its treatments. This will help you to understand your treatment options.

Treatment decisions and your cancer team

You might make treatment decisions on your own. Or you might reach a decision with support from doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals. Some people prefer to leave decisions about treatment to their cancer doctor. Even if you decide this, your cancer doctor must still give you clear explanations about your treatment and any risks. They also need to ask for your consent.

Some people may find it difficult to understand the information they need to make decisions. This might be because English is not their first language, or for other reasons.

We have more information about how your healthcare team can support you to fully understand information about your treatment options.

Shared decision-making

Shared decision-making means you, your cancer doctor, specialist nurse and other healthcare professionals from your cancer team working together. The aim is to reach a decision about your treatment or care that is right for you.

Your healthcare team gives you information and support to help you make a decision. You can tell them about your wishes and what is important to you. You may need more than 1 meeting with your healthcare team before you decide. You can usually take some time to decide. But this may not be possible if you have a cancer that needs to be treated urgently.

How your cancer team plans your treatment options

A team of specialists meet to talk about the best treatment options for you. They are called a multidisciplinary team (MDT).

To help the team decide, it looks at things including:

  • the stage and type of cancer you have
  • your general health
  • any treatment guidelines.

After the MDT meeting, you will usually see your cancer doctor and specialist nurse. They will talk to you about your treatment plan. This is when you start making treatment decisions. You may need more information about the cancer, the different options for your treatment, and how it is likely to affect you.

What is important to you

There is often more than 1 approach to treatment or care. Your cancer team will help you to understand the benefits and risks of different options. This helps you to think about your choices and make the best decision for you.

Sometimes it can help to tell your doctor what is important to you. This might be linked to:

  • your personal values
  • your cultural, spiritual or religious beliefs
  • something unique to you.

You do not have to talk to your doctor about these things. But it might help your healthcare team to understand the treatment you would prefer, and what matters to you. If you have had negative experiences of healthcare in the past, you might feel uncertain about the advice you get. You might want more time to think, or want a second opinion (see below). Try to talk to your doctor or nurse to understand the reasons for their advice.

Aims of your treatment

Understanding the aims of your treatment can often be helpful. Your cancer doctor and specialist nurse will explain this to you. Treatment can aim to:

  • completely remove the cancer or destroy all the cancer cells
  • slow down, or help to control, the growth of a cancer
  • relieve symptoms
  • give you the best quality of life.

The aim of your treatment often affects the decisions you make. For example, you may find it easier to accept intensive treatment if it offers a possible cure. Different things, such as your general health, can also affect the treatment you have.

Age, depending on your general health, does not stop you from having the same treatment as anyone else. But it may change how you think about having intensive treatment. We have more information about age and cancer.

Getting the information you need

It is up to you how much information you need to make treatment decisions. Some people want to find out as much as possible about the cancer and each treatment option. Others prefer to know less.

We have more information about questions to ask your healthcare team.

Information about the cancer

You might want more information from your healthcare team about:

  • where the cancer first started – the primary site
  • the type of cancer it is – some cancers have different sub-types
  • its stage – the size of the cancer and if it has spread
  • its grade – how quickly the cancer may grow, based on how the cells look
  • any genetic changes in the cancer cells that tell doctors which drugs are most likely to help.

Information about treatment

You need information to help you think about the benefits and risks of each treatment option. For example:

  • if the treatment can cure the cancer, or help you live longer
  • whether there are other treatment options available
  • possible side effects of treatment, either short-term or long-term
  • how treatments affect your everyday life
  • what will happen if you do not have treatment.

This can be a lot to think about. Your healthcare team can usually give you written information to read in your own time. They can also answer any questions you have about each treatment option.

Side effects of treatment

Different treatments have different side effects. This might affect your decision about which treatment to have. It is important to understand the possible short-term and long-term side effects. Your cancer team can explain these to you.

Side effects usually improve after treatment finishes. But some side effects might be permanent. These are called long-term side effect. Or they might develop months or years after treatment. These are called late effects.

For example, you might want to know if a treatment:

It is important to have these conversations with your cancer team before treatment starts. If you have treatment to preserve your fertility, this needs to start before you begin cancer treatment.

Talk to your team about balancing the possible benefits and side effects of the treatment.

Effects of treatment on everyday life

The effects of treatment on everyday life are different for everyone. For example, some people might be able to continue working, while for others this will not be possible.

You might have an operation that means weeks or longer in hospital to recover. Or you may have to travel to hospital regularly for radiotherapy or chemotherapy. This can take time and make you more tired.

You might want to know how different treatments could affect your everyday life. For example, which treatment:

  • has side effects that are least likely to affect you
  • involves the least time in hospital
  • has the smallest effect on your home and social life
  • allows you to carry on working for financial reasons.


A prognosis gives an idea about whether the cancer can be cured and what might happen in the future. Your cancer doctor is the best person to answer questions about your prognosis.

Not everyone wants detailed information on prognosis, but some people find it helpful in making treatment decisions. Asking about your prognosis may be difficult, and sometimes the answer might be upsetting. It is important to think about how much you want to know first, before asking for a prognosis.


Doctors sometimes mention statistics when describing treatment options. They can explain how statistics relate to your treatment options. This may be a useful way to compare certain treatments. But it is important to remember that statistics cannot predict how well a treatment will work for you. They can sometimes be difficult to understand.

Why other treatments might not be possible

Sometimes you might read about a treatment that you have not been offered. This might be for different reasons. For example, the treatment may not be:

  • suitable for the type or stage of cancer you have
  • suitable because of your general health
  • approved, if it is still being tested in a research trial
  • offered at your hospital
  • available on the NHS
  • available in the UK.

Even if you have the same cancer as someone else, your treatment may be different. For example, their cancer may be at a different stage, or they may have other medical conditions to consider. If you have questions, talk to your cancer doctor or specialist nurse. They can explain whether a treatment may be an option for you.

If a drug or treatment is not available

If a treatment or drug is not available, there are ways you might be able to get it. If you and your cancer doctor agree that you would benefit from a treatment, you can apply to the NHS for funding. There are different ways of doing this depending on which country in the UK you live in. We have more information about applying for funding.

Second opinion

If you think you want a second opinion, talk to your cancer doctor or GP first. Tell them your concerns and ask them to explain anything you do not understand. This might help reassure you.

Getting a second opinion may delay the start of your treatment. But for some people it offers different treatment options.

We have more information about getting a second opinion.

Reliable sources of information

There are many ways to find out about the treatments you have been offered. Getting information from reliable sources means you can be sure it is accurate and up to date. You can get reliable information from:

  • your specialist doctor, nurse or other members of your healthcare team
  • cancer information organisations
  • recommended websites
  • other people who have been in a similar situation.

Family and friends may want to help you find out more about the cancer and its treatment. This can be helpful if you are feeling tired or already have enough to think about. Tell them exactly what information you want. You could ask them to make notes or to print off the most useful information for you.

Your cancer team

Different healthcare professionals make up your cancer team. A team of doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals work together to plan your treatment. But you will usually have 1 main cancer doctor. This may be a specialist surgeon or a consultant cancer specialist (oncologist). Or it could be a doctor who specialises in cancers of the blood (haematologist).

You may meet more than 1 specialist, depending on the type of cancer you have. If you are not sure who your main doctor is, ask someone in your healthcare team.

You may also have a specialist nurse who gives you information and support. This might be your key worker, who is your main point of contact at the hospital for support and information. Other healthcare professionals from the cancer team, such as radiographers, may give you information and support through your treatment.

Your doctors and nurses can help you to understand other information you may have found. For example, they can explain the results of research trials and how they might relate to your situation.

After a hospital appointment, your cancer doctor will write to your GP. If you would like a copy of this letter as well, ask your cancer doctor. Some doctors routinely send copies of letters to the GP. If you would prefer not to have a copy, let them know.

Cancer information organisations

There are many organisations and charities that can give you information about cancer. They may have specialist nurses who can give you information. Or they may have volunteers with experience of cancer who you can talk to. Organisations often have a website and can send you written information.

Reliable websites

The internet can be a good source of health information. But it is important to make sure any website you use is reliable and provides accurate information. You could ask your team which websites they recommend.

Some websites have logos to show they have been certified as providers of up-to-date, high-quality information. Look for the Patient Information Forum (PIF) TICK on leaflets, websites, videos or apps. It shows that the health information has been through a professional and robust production process. You can find the PIF quality mark on Macmillan’s information and at the bottom of this page.

To check if a website is reliable, think about the following:

  • What does the website address end in? This can give you an idea of who is providing the information. For example:
    • charity and non-profit websites often end in .org.uk or .org
    • UK government websites end in gov.uk
    • academic institutions end in ac.uk
  • Has it got a PIF TICK or a similar quality mark?
  • Is it a UK website? Information and advice may be different in other countries.
  • Is the information regularly updated? Medical information changes over time. Check when it was last reviewed to make sure it is still accurate. You should be able to find this date on each page, and the date the information will be reviewed next. PIF TICK guidelines recommend information should be reviewed at least every 3 years.
  • Is it clear who has written the information? A good website should tell you about who has produced the information. For example, is it written or approved by healthcare professionals?
  • Does the page include sources of evidence (references) for the information? References should be listed, and up to date.
  • Is the website sponsored by a company or trying to sell you something? This might mean the information is biased towards that company’s products or services.

We have more information about how we produce our cancer information.

Using the internet

Some hospitals have cancer information and support centres where you can use the internet and talk to someone who can help you.

Macmillan has different support centres in hospitals and libraries across the UK.

Save helpful websites as a favourite, or bookmark it so you can find it easily. If you are using a computer in a library or cancer support centre, it may not be possible to save these pages. You could print the information or take notes instead. Remember to note down the web address (URL) of the page you are looking at. For example, macmillan.org.uk/information-and-support/treating/chemotherapy

If you are worried about anything you read online, talk to your cancer doctor or specialist nurse. They can answer questions and talk to you about your situation.

Getting support

Sometimes it can be difficult to focus on the treatment options you have been given. You may think that there is too much information, and feel confused or overwhelmed.

You may hear or read things that are upsetting. This can be difficult to cope with when you are already emotional. It may help to talk about your feelings with your healthcare team, a family member or friend, or a counsellor.

Our cancer support specialists are here to answer any questions you have, offer support or simply listen if you need a chat. Call us free on 0808 808 00 00. You can also get in touch with the Support Line via online chat, email, or with our interpreter service.

Other people in a similar situation

Sometimes it helps to find out about other people’s experiences. You could do this through an online community or forum, or at a local support group.

Other people will not be able to tell you which treatment is best for you, or which side effects you will get. But they can tell you how they felt and what helped them to cope during treatment.

Our Online Community is a place where you can chat to people in online forums, blog about your experiences and make friends. You can also find out about local support groups at macmillan.org.uk/selfhelpandsupport

If you have any doubts about information someone has given you, always check with your healthcare team.

About our information

  • References

    Below is a sample of the sources used in our information about making treatment decisions. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at cancerinformationteam@macmillan.org.uk

    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. Shared decision making. NICE; 2021. NICE guideline [NG197]. Available from: www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng19. Last accessed January 2023.

    Hayter C, Andrewes T et al. Factors affecting patients’ decision-making about treatment for cancer: a literature review. Cancer Nursing Practice. 2021; doi: 10.7748/cnp.2021. e1769. Last accessed January 2023.

  • This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been approved by members of Macmillan’s Centre of Clinical Expertise.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.

The language we use

We want everyone affected by cancer to feel our information is written for them.

We want our information to be as clear as possible. To do this, we try to:

  • use plain English
  • explain medical words
  • use short sentences
  • use illustrations to explain text
  • structure the information clearly
  • make sure important points are clear.

We use gender-inclusive language and talk to our readers as ‘you’ so that everyone feels included. Where clinically necessary we use the terms ‘men’ and ‘women’ or ‘male’ and ‘female’. For example, we do so when talking about parts of the body or mentioning statistics or research about who is affected.

You can read more about how we produce our information here.

Date reviewed

Reviewed: 01 July 2023
Next review: 01 July 2026
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.