Doctors: Managing cancer treatment can be confusing

In In The News by Barbara Jacoby


Question: My mother was just diagnosed with breast cancer, and we’re confused by the med-speak that the doctors are using. They keep asking Mom what she wants to do, but how can she (or her family) know what’s best for her?

— Kathy G.,

Orlando, Florida

Answer: You’ve pinpointed a big problem: Cancer diagnoses and treatments have gotten so complex that it’s difficult to know exactly how to choose a course of treatment. It seems these days that every patient and/or family needs to take a crash course in being a great self-advocate and managing the stage of cancer that’s been diagnosed. Only then is it possible to fully participate in patient-centered communication and shared decision-making with the doctors.

Unfortunately, many doctors still don’t bother to ask the patient what he or she wants to do. And when they do, the collaboration doesn’t always result in “informed medical decisions.” That may be why some studies show that only half of cancer patients rate their care as excellent.

The good news is that you and your mom can do a lot to make sure your doctor works WITH you so that you understand what’s going on and your treatment decisions result in excellent care and outcomes. So here’s where to start learning about Mom’s best options:

The National Comprehensive Cancer Network — an alliance of 25 of the world’s leading cancer centers — offers FREE, detailed guides to all diagnoses and treatment options for breast, colon, esophageal, pancreatic, prostate and ovarian cancers, as well as chronic myelogenous leukemia, malignant pleural mesothelioma, melanoma, multiple myeloma and non-small-cell lung cancer. You can access them at (or buy a printed copy at and offer advice on navigating cancer care. The American Cancer Society’s Understanding Your Diagnosis offers step-by-step advice, at

And remember to ask as many questions as you like. Insist on answers that you and/or your mom can understand. And don’t hesitate to bring in the cancer treatment center’s patient advocate to help you get the information you want.