Taking an active role in your medical care is always a good idea. But it's especially important during colorectal cancer treatment. There are a lot of important decisions that you and your team of doctors need to make, so it's best if you work together.
Being diagnosed with colorectal cancer can make you feel helpless. Becoming involved in the treatment process can give you back a feeling of control. Here are some things you can do to make a partnership with your doctor work:
Fighting colorectal cancer often requires a number of different treatments: chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. No single doctor can handle all aspects of your treatment for colorectal cancer. Here's how to assemble a team of experts to help you.
Be an active patient. Don't just sit back and let the doctor make all the decisions. Instead, think about what you want from the treatment for your colorectal cancer. Ask questions about the various approaches available. Go over the pros and cons. Find out about side effects.
Talk to your doctor about developing a partnership. Explain that you want to take an active role in your treatment. Most doctors will welcome the idea. But if the doctor is opposed or dismisses concerns, think about seeing someone else.
Read up on your condition. It's important to learn about the latest treatments available for colorectal cancer. That will give you a way to evaluate the options your doctor suggests.
Try not to become obsessed. While learning about colorectal cancer and the treatment options is important, don't go overboard. "Too much information can be bad," says Anthony Back, MD, an oncologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. "I see patients who feel like they should be on the Internet every second, looking for new information. But that might not be the best way to spend your time, especially with advanced disease."
Don't be afraid of getting a second opinion. If you have any doubts about the treatment your doctor suggests -- or if you want to just double-check -- get a second opinion. Most doctors will have no problem with that. "I don't mind when my patients get a second opinion," says Paulo M. Hoff, MD, an oncologist at the MD Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas in Houston. "I believe that the more brains you have thinking about a problem, the better." In many cases, Hoff observes, the second doctor will suggest the same treatment as the first. But having that agreement can make you a lot more confident about your treatment.
Discuss the costs. "The chemotherapy drugs for some colorectal cancers can be enormously expensive and the costs can be crippling for many families," Back says. "So you need to have a frank discussion with your doctor about how much your treatment will cost." Do it up front so that you aren't surprised later. Be sure you know what will, and will not, be covered by insurance.
Be honest. For your colorectal cancer treatment to be effective, you need to be honest with your doctor. So make sure the doctor knows everything about your medical condition and about all medicines, supplements, and herbal remedies you use. If you're skipping medication, tell your doctor and explain why. There might be a solution.
SOURCES: American Cancer Society. Damian Augustyn, MD, American Gastroenterological Association spokesperson. Anthony Back, MD, associate professor, University of Washington. Paulo M. Hoff, MD, former associate professor, GI medical oncology, MD Andersen Cancer Center at the University of Texas. Leonard Saltz, MD, attending physician and leader of the Colorectal Disease Management Team, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Schrag, D., New England Journal of Medicine, July 22, 2004.