Aims and side effects of treatment

The aim of treatment will depend on things like the type of cancer you have, its stage and grade, and your general health. Treatment may be given to:

  • remove a cancer
  • slow down or help control the growth of a cancer
  • relieve symptoms
  • make another treatment possible or more effective
  • reduce the risk of the cancer coming back.

Your healthcare team will explain the possible side effects of treatment to you. They may also give you some written information.

They can also tell you about how the treatment might impact your life. For example, how long it might take or if you will need to be in hospital for some time. They can advise you about whether treatment may affect your ability to work.

Your doctors might talk about taking part in a clinical research trial. They will talk to you about why it is being done and how it might benefit you. It is your choice about whether you take part.

Aims of treatment

The aim of treatment will depend on your situation, including:

  • the type of cancer you have
  • the stage and grade of the cancer
  • your general health
  • the treatment options available.

Treatment can aim to:

  • remove a cancer
  • slow down or help control the growth of a cancer
  • relieve symptoms
  • make another treatment possible or more effective
  • reduce the risk of the cancer coming back.

Your doctors will be able to tell you about the aim of treatment for you.

Sometimes, your doctor will offer you a choice of treatments that are equally effective. If this happens, your decision about which treatment to have may be based on how the different treatments will affect you.

It is important to remember that everyone responds differently to treatment. No one can say exactly how you might feel during a treatment, or guarantee that a treatment will work for you.

Side effects of treatment

Most cancer treatments have side effects. It is important to discuss your treatment fully with your healthcare team so you know what to expect. It can also be helpful to have some written information about how treatment might affect you.

Side effects usually improve after treatment finishes. But sometimes they can be long-term or permanent. Sometimes there are side effects that may occur some time after treatment has ended (late effects). Your doctor can tell you if this may be the case.

You may want to think about the possible side effects of treatment, and the impact they might have on you and other people, when deciding about treatment.

Your day-to-day life

Some side effects will have very little impact on your everyday life, while others may have more.

For example, you may have to go into hospital for an operation and need time to recover. Or you may have to travel to hospital regularly for radiotherapy or chemotherapy treatment. This may mean you are unable to work or continue your usual social life for a while. You may have to cancel any special events you have planned, such as weddings or holidays.

You may be happy to delay your social life for a while, so you can have your treatment and then recover from it. But you may have some events planned that make it more difficult for you to do this. You can ask your healthcare team whether the treatment can be planned to fit around your schedule. This will not always be possible, but it is worth asking.

Your healthcare team should be able to give you an idea of how long your treatment will last and how often you will need to visit the hospital. This may help you choose a treatment that best suits you.

If you cannot work because of treatment, you may find that you struggle to cope financially. Your doctor or nurse can refer you to a social worker or benefits adviser who can tell you about benefits and other sources of support. Your employer may also be able to help, so it is worth talking to your manager or human resources department.

If you are struggling to cope financially, you can call our support line for free on 0808 808 00 00.

I didn’t want treatment on the day of the week it was booked. We came to a compromise, which was great because it made me feel like I had input.


Taking part in a research trial

You may be asked to take part in a research trial. Trials help improve knowledge about cancer and cancer treatments. Many treatments commonly used today are from trials that took place years ago.

Information about the trial

If you have been asked to take part in a trial, it can help to know why it is being done and what taking part in it may mean for you.

Often, a trial will compare the standard treatment for your situation with a new treatment that the researchers think may be better. Talk to your healthcare team about the possible treatments in the trial and how they may affect you. Knowing about the different treatments will help you decide if you want to take part or to have the standard treatment instead.

Usually, several hospitals take part in these trials. It is important to know that some treatments look promising at first, but may later be found to be less effective than existing treatments. Or they may have side effects that outweigh the benefits.

The benefits and disadvantages of taking part in a trial

Taking part in a trial means that you may benefit from a new treatment. You will also be helping doctors find out which treatments may benefit future patients.

You will be carefully monitored during and after the trial. You may need to go to the hospital or GP more often. Sometimes you may have to travel to a different hospital. Ask how many extra visits will be needed and think about whether you are willing to do this. Remember that hospital appointments can be tiring and may cost you more money for travel and parking. You can ask if the research organisation will pay for your travel costs and how to claim for any extra expenses.

If you decide not to take part in a trial, your decision will be respected and you do not have to give a reason. The hospital staff will not treat you any differently and you will be offered the standard treatment for your situation. If you do decide to take part, you can leave the trial at any time without giving a reason.

We have more information about research trials that you may find helpful.

I took part in a clinical trial of a new chemotherapy drug. I'd already had treatment so my progress was measured against the new one.

Ron, clinical trial participant

Back to Making treatment decisions

How treatment is planned

A team of health professionals will work with you to plan the treatment that is best for your situation.

Getting a second opinion

Your treatment will be planned using national guidelines, but you may still want another medical opinion.

Making a complaint

If you are unhappy with the treatment or care you have received, you may want to make a complaint.

Making a decision

It is important to remember that the decision you make is the right one for you at the time.

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.