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  • Treatment decisions about bowel cancer

    Last reviewed January 2013


    Making a decision

    Sometimes it is difficult to decide on the right treatment. You may feel that everything is happening so fast you don’t have time to think things through but there is usually time to consider what sort of treatment you want.

    Waiting for test results and for treatment to begin can be difficult. While some people feel overwhelmed by information, others want as much information as they can find. Making sure you understand enough about your illness, the treatment and its side effects will help you make your own decisions.

    • If you are offered a choice of treatments, you will need to weigh up their advantages and disadvantages. Consider how important any side effects are to you particularly those that affect your lifestyle
    • If you have a partner you may want to talk about your treatment options with them. You can also talk to your friends and family
    • If only one type of treatment is recommended ask your doctor to explain why other treatment choices have not been offered.

    You have the right to accept or refuse any treatment.

    Some people with more advanced cancer will choose treatment, even if it only offers a small chance of cure. Others want to make sure the benefits of treatment outweigh any side effects so they have the best possible quality of life. Some people may choose options that don’t try to cure the cancer but make them feel as well as possible for as long as possible.

    Talking with doctors

    When your doctor first tells you that you have cancer it is very stressful and you may not remember many details about what you are told. You may want to see the doctor a few times before deciding on treatment.
    If your doctor uses medical terms you don’t understand, it’s okay to ask for a simpler explanation.

    Before you see the doctor, it may help to write down any questions. Taking notes can help. Many people like to have a family member or friend go with them to take part in the discussion, take notes or simply listen.

    If you have several questions for your doctor you may want to book a longer appointment.

    A second opinion

    Getting a second opinion from another specialist may be a valuable part of your decision-making process. It can confirm or clarify your doctor’s recommendations and reassure you that you have explored all of your options.

    Some people feel uncomfortable asking their doctor for a second opinion, but specialists are used to patients doing this.

    Your doctor can refer you to another specialist and send your initial results to that person. You can get a second opinion even if you have started treatment or still want to be treated by your first doctor. You may decide you would prefer to be treated by the doctor who provided the second opinion.

    Which health professionals will I see?

    Your GP plays an important role in your ongoing care. They will arrange the first tests to assess your symptoms. If these tests do not rule out cancer you will usually be referred to a surgeon or gastroenterologist, a digestive system specialist, who will arrange further tests and advise you about treatment options.

    You will be cared for by a range of health professionals who specialise in different aspects of your treatment. This multidisciplinary team may include:

    Health professional Job description
    Cancer care coordinator or clinical nurse consultant supports patients and families throughout treatment and liaises with other staff
    Colorectal surgeon operates on cancer in the large bowel or rectum
    Dietitian recommends an eating plan to follow while you’re in treatment and recovery
    Gastroenterologist specialises in the digestive system and its disorders
    Medical oncologist prescribes and coordinates the course of chemotherapy
    Operating room staff (such as anaesthetists and technicians) cares for you during surgery and recovery
    Psychologist and counsellor helps you manage your feelings about cancer and its treatment
    Radiation oncologist prescribes and coordinates the course of radiotherapy
    Stomal therapy nurse provides information about surgery and adjusting to life with a temporary or permanent stoma
    Social worker, physiotherapist and occupational therapist links you to support services and help with emotional, physical or practical issues

    Information reviewed by:  Karen Barclay, Colorectal Surgeon, The Northern Hospital, Lecturer in Surgery, University of Melbourne, VIC; Carole Arbuckle, Cancer Nurse, Cancer Council VIC; Karen Bowers, Eat it to Beat it Strategy Project Officer, Cancer Council NSW; Darrell Bowyer, Consumer; Rebecca Foot-Connolly, Stomal Therapy Nurse, The Alfred Hospital, VIC; Bernadette Hadfield, Stomal Therapy Nurse, The Alfred Hospital, VIC; Melissa Heagney, Media and Communications Advisor, Cancer Prevention Unit, Cancer Council VIC; Dorothy King, Consumer; and Loreto Pinnuck, Stomal Therapist, Wound Consultant, Paediatric Continence Specialist, Monash Medical Centre, VIC.


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