How treatment is planned

A group of health professionals with expert knowledge in your type of cancer will manage your treatment. This is called a multidisciplinary team (MDT).

Your specialist will arrange some tests to find out more about your cancer.

The MDT will meet to discuss the results of the tests and to plan your treatment. They will look at a number of things, including:

  • the type and size of the cancer, and whether it has spread
  • your general health
  • national treatment guidelines for your particular cancer.

You may be given a choice of treatment options, which your specialist will discuss with you. If you don't understand what you've been told, let the staff know so they can explain again.

You will need to give permission (consent) for the hospital staff to give you the treatment.

You may find it helpful to take a friend or relative to your appointments to help you remember the discussion. You may also find it useful to have a list of questions ready to make sure you get the information you need.

At the hospital

You may have a number of tests at hospital to help the doctors make a diagnosis. In most hospitals, once you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, a team of specialists will work together to plan the treatment they feel is best for your situation. This team of specialists is known as a multidisciplinary team (MDT). Depending on what type of cancer you have, it usually includes:

  • a surgeon
  • a medical oncologist (a doctor who specialises in treating cancer with chemotherapy)
  • a clinical oncologist (a doctor who specialises in treating cancer with radiotherapy and chemotherapy)
  • a radiologist (a doctor who specialises in reading scans and x-rays)
  • a pathologist (a doctor who specialises in looking at cells under a microscope and diagnosing the cell type)
  • a nurse specialist (a nurse who gives you information and support during treatment).

Before your cancer treatment can be planned, one of the specialists will see you and arrange for you to have various tests. This is to find out the type and size of the cancer and whether it has begun to spread. The MDT will then meet together to discuss the results and plan your treatment, taking into account a number of factors:

  • the type and size of the cancer and whether it has spread
  • your general health
  • national treatment guidelines for your particular cancer - you can find out more about these from your specialist.

Once your MDT has decided the most suitable treatment options available to you, your specialist will discuss the recommended treatment with you. They should always take your own wishes into consideration as well. Usually this discussion will happen during an outpatient appointment.

If you have a choice of treatments, they will give you time to make a decision about which treatment you wish to have. It’s important that, before your treatment, you feel able to ask any questions and understand the answers given.

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 on 0808 808 00 00.

Benefits of an MDT

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommend that people with cancer should be managed by a multidisciplinary team. People cared for by an MDT are more likely to:

  • receive accurate diagnosis and staging
  • be offered a choice of treatments decided by a group of experts, rather than by one doctor
  • receive better coordination and continuity of care through all stages of the cancer
  • be treated in line with locally agreed policies and national guidelines
  • be offered appropriate and consistent information (because the person giving the information should be aware of the team’s strategy for your care)
  • have their psychological and social needs considered – communication between different team members is better where they have a formal working relationship.

Giving consent

Before you have any treatment, your doctor will explain its aims. They will 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 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 Making treatment decisions

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.

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.