Skip to content

    Cancer Health Center

    Font Size

    A Cancer Diagnosis: What to Do Next?

    Experts explain how to take control of your life after a cancer diagnosis.

    After a Cancer Diagnosis: Taking a 'Whole Life' Approach

    A cancer diagnosis touches every area of your life, so your plans for managing after your cancer diagnosis should do so as well.

    Take an active role in medical and treatment decisions. Given the complexity of cancer treatment, you may feel you should take a back seat to your doctors. But according to Michael Fisch, MD, gastrointestinal oncologist at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, patients and families should “realize early in the process that they are crucial members of their own health care team.”

    Treatment for cancer is highly complex and individualized. Your cancer treatment plan will depend on many factors, including the type of cancer you have, it’s location and stage of development, your current state of health, and your goals for treatment and quality of life. Seeking a cure regardless of the discomfort of treatment, or pursuing comfort above all else, are both reasonable treatment goals.

    To make informed decisions, you will need to understand your cancer treatment options, which could include:

    • Surgery (a major or minor operation to remove cancer)
    • Chemotherapy (using anticancer medication that acts throughout the body)
    • Radiation therapy (using high-energy beams or implants to kill cancer cells)
    • Immunotherapy (using products of the immune system as medicine against the cancer)

    You can find more detailed information on therapy on trusted web sites, and by talking with your doctors.

    You may want to consider participating in a clinical trial. Clinical trials compare a cancer treatment known to be effective against one that shows promise to be equal or better. Clinical trials are ongoing for almost every form of cancer. The decision to enter a clinical trial is complicated but well worth considering. If you are interested in a clinical trial, talk the matter over with your doctor. The following nonprofit groups can provide more information on clinical trials: The Coalition of Cancer Cooperative Groups (CCCG); the National Cancer Institute Physician Data Query (PDQ); and the American Cancer Society Clinical Trial Matching Service.

    Also, be skeptical of statistics. Statistics can help, or they can “mess with your head,” says Fincannon. Even if the odds are favorable, “people are often haunted by the numbers,” she adds. Consider your own preferences and ask your oncologist to communicate appropriately. “Some patients may like to know lots of ... statistical detail,” says Fisch. If not, “ask your doctor to use the words ‘most’ or ‘some’” in place of percentage numbers, suggests Fincannon.

    Today on WebMD

    man holding lung xray
    What you need to know.
    stem cells
    How they work for blood cancers.
    woman wearing pink ribbon
    Separate fact from fiction.
    Colorectal cancer cells
    Symptoms, screening tests, and more.
    Jennifer Goodman Linn self-portrait
    what is your cancer risk
    colorectal cancer treatment advances
    breast cancer overview slideshow
    prostate cancer overview
    lung cancer overview slideshow
    ovarian cancer overview slideshow
    Actor Michael Douglas