Develop Your Treatment Plan
“I did what the doc told me to do, what did I know?” Newly diagnosed testicular cancer patient on how he decided on his treatment plan….
It’s not uncommon to assume that your physician’s recommended cancer treatment must begin immediately. You’re probably feeling anxious and want treatment to start right away. You want to rid your body of this cancer as soon as possible. However, it is important to know that in most cases, there is time to research the treatment options available to you.
Build a Strong Medical Team that You are Comfortable With
Cancer care and chronic illness management is complex. It takes a team of medical professionals to manage your care. You are the quarterback of that team. Doctors, surgeons, nurses, radiation oncologists, technicians, social workers, physical therapists and anyone involved in your treatment will have access to your private, sensitive medical information. It’s important you feel comfortable with your medical team and confident in their ability to treat your disease.
When starting your research, you may want to seek out physicians in your area who have experience treating your disease and who are covered by your insurance. Physicians who specialize in a certain type of cancer see large volumes of patients and are usually more familiar with the latest research. (For help in choosing an oncologist, read “Find an Oncologist” at the Cancer.Net website.)
Start to Explore Treatment Options
The type of cancer you have, how advanced it might be (usually determined by “staging” from a biopsy of the tumor), your age and overall health help determine which treatment is best for you.
Make sure that you understand your diagnosis. Ask the doctor to discuss the pathology report with you. Make sure you know the name of the cancer, the tumor grade and other signs that may predict the cancer’s behavior, sometimes called the prognostic indicators. Make sure to ask for a copy of the written pathology report. You will need this report for second opinions.
Standard cancer treatment options consist of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation either alone or in combination with other therapies. Newer treatment options include targeted therapy, immunotherapy, hormone therapy, stem cell transplants and clinical trials.
Talk with your doctor and find out which treatment he/she recommends. Ask questions. You will usually have time to decide if this particular treatment is right for you.
In many cases, you will want a second opinion, especially if yours in an uncommon cancer or the surgeon or oncologist are not familiar with your cancer. It’s fine to ask them how many patients with your type of cancer they have treated.
You will also want to consider whether you should seek treatment at a major cancer center away from your hometown. (For more information, read “Choosing a Treatment Facility” at the Cancer.Net website.)
Some questions you may want to ask your health care team at the outset are:
- What is the exact type and name of the cancer I have?
- How was it diagnosed?
- What tests were taken and what did they show?
- Will I need additional tests?
- What stage is the cancer and what does that mean?
- What is my prognosis? What will my quality of life be?
- What are the next steps?
(Source: Cancer.Net’s “Newly Diagnosed: Next Steps to Take”)
Choosing Your Treatment
In your notebook, you or your partner should write down your doctor’s answers. Once home, review your options. You know yourself better than anyone. Do some careful research on the proposed treatments, become educated on your illness and speak to your family and friends.
Keep in mind that all treatments come with risks and benefits. Talk about these with your doctor and consider your medical history and current condition in deciding whether the treatment approach is appropriate for you.
- What are my treatment options?
- What is the goal of each treatment?
- What clinical trials (research studies involving people) are open to me?
- What treatment do you recommend? Why?
- How much experience do you have treating this type of cancer?
- How will this treatment benefit me?
- Will I need to be hospitalized for treatment, or is this treatment done in an outpatient clinic?
- What is the expected timeline for my treatment plan? Do I need to be treated right away?
- How will this treatment affect my daily life? Will I be able to work, exercise, and perform my usual activities?
- What are the short-term side effects of this treatment?
- What long-term side effects may be associated with this cancer treatment?
- Will this treatment affect my ability to become pregnant or have children?
- Besides treating cancer, what can be done to treat my symptoms?
- How can I keep myself as healthy as possible during treatment?
- Who can I turn to when I have questions about my treatment?
(Source: Cancer.Net’s “Questions to Ask the Doctor”)
Remember to be open and honest with your healthcare team. They are there to provide you with the care you deserve. You are also a healthcare consumer; it’s important to build good relationships with those caring for you even as you become your own best advocate.
If you’re uncomfortable with your doctor’s treatment recommendations, attitude or approach, you should seek a second opinion or find another doctor. Your relationship with your oncologist is crucial. Trust is profoundly important. You know you’re ready to start treatment when you understand your situation, calmly review all of your options, discuss the advice with your loved ones, and then decide for yourself.
Sites We Like
We recommend that you begin your cancer treatment research on the National Cancer Institute (NCI) website. The site is very user friendly and offers the best overall starting point for your cancer type, cancer topic information, clinical trials, treatments, publications, a dictionary and glossary and it gives you access to the PDQ® (Physician’s Data Query), which is NCI’s comprehensive data base. Under each type of cancer, you will find overall treatment options by stage of disease.
We also recommend the website maintained by ASCO – the American Society of Clinical Oncology. It features information on cancer types, clinical trials, coping, side effects, oncologist database, message boards, patient support organizations, and feature articles. There is an extensive Spanish-language section.
The American Cancer Society offers its NexProfilerTreatment Option Tool in which you can access the detailed analysis of your specific condition, uncover a statistical breakdown of treatment types, and pinpoint the exact topics you should discuss with your doctor.