Talking about your treatment plan

After a multidisciplinary team (MDT) meeting, your cancer specialist or nurse will talk to you about your treatment options.

They will explain the main aims of treatment. These may be to try to cure the cancer, to help you live longer or to relieve symptoms. They will also tell you the possible short-term and long-term side effects of the treatments.

You and your cancer team will usually decide together which treatments are right for you. Cancer specialists have expert knowledge of the treatments. But you know your situation, beliefs and preferences.

If one treatment has been shown to work best, most people are happy for their cancer doctor to guide them. But there can be times when your treatment choice will depend on your preferences.

Sometimes, a cure is not possible and the aim of the treatment is to control the cancer. It may be more difficult in this situation to decide what to do. You may need to discuss this in detail with your doctor. If you choose not to have the treatment, you can have supportive (palliative) care. This will control any symptoms you may have.

Making treatment decisions

When making treatment decisions, it is important to talk to your cancer team. It can help to make a list of the questions you want to ask them. You can take this to your next appointment. It is also helpful to have a relative or close friend with you at appointments. You may choose to keep notes about what has been said.

Giving 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.

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 do not understand what you have been told, let the staff know straight away, so they can explain again. Some cancer treatments are complex, so it is not unusual to need repeated explanations.

It is 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 is 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 do not have it. It is essential to tell a doctor or the nurse in charge, so they can record your decision in your medical notes. You do not 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.

Second opinion

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. You may also find it helpful to have a list of questions ready so that you can make sure your concerns are covered during the discussion.

Getting a second opinion

GP David Plume explains getting a second opinion about your diagnosis or treatment.

About our cancer information videos

Getting a second opinion

GP David Plume explains getting a second opinion about your diagnosis or treatment.

About our cancer information videos

Back to Making treatment decisions

How treatment is planned

Your treatment will be planned by a team of specialist doctors and other healthcare professionals, called a multidisciplinary team (MDT).

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.

Clinical negligence

If care given by a healthcare professional falls below an acceptable standard and causes injury or death, you can claim compensation for the harm done.