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
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
- Radiation therapy (using high-energy beams or implants to kill cancer
- Immunotherapy (using products of the immune system as medicine against the
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