After Diagnosis: A Guide for Patients and Families

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How is treatment planned?

Planning cancer treatment takes time. Most people want to start treatment right away. They worry that extra time needed to do tests or other things takes up precious time that could be spent treating the cancer.

How long is too long to wait before treatment?

Different types of cancer grow at different rates. Certain types of leukemias and lymphomas tend to grow faster than solid tumors, so treatment for these cancers might need to be started within a couple of days. But most cancers don’t grow very quickly, which leaves plenty of time to get information about your cancer, see specialists, and make decisions about which treatment is best for you. Keep in mind that the information gathered during this time is key to planning the best treatment for you. If you’re worried because treatment isn’t starting right away, discuss your concerns with your cancer care team to be sure that any delays won’t cause problems.

How does the doctor know how to treat my cancer?

The type of treatment you get will depend on a lot of things. The type of cancer (including where it is and the cell type), the stage (extent) of the cancer, and your overall health are the most important ones. Other things to think about are your personal situation (including how well you can travel and take part in treatment), how well each treatment will likely work in your case, and the possible side effects and risks of each type of treatment.

Your doctor will first gather information about your cancer. A biopsy and other lab tests, physical exams, imaging tests (x-rays or scans), and any problems the cancer is causing, are all used to decide which treatment options might be best for you. Your doctor may also talk with other experts to get their opinions. Your doctor will then discuss the goal of treatment and the pros and cons of each treatment option with you.

Getting a second opinion

One way to find out if a suggested treatment is the best one for you is to get the opinion of at least one other doctor before starting treatment. Your doctor shouldn’t mind if you get a second opinion and can help refer you to another doctor. A few insurance companies even require a second opinion, but you’ll want to find out if your insurance company covers it before you get one.

Once you’ve decided who you will see for your second opinion, ask that your medical records, original scans, and all test results be shared with the new doctor. That way you won’t have to repeat them. You may need to sign a release of information form to have the records sent. Or you may want to take copies of your medical records to the new doctor yourself.


Last Medical Review: 02/20/2015
Last Revised: 02/20/2015