The Social Cancer (Large Print)

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If the two opinions are similar, it's likely that all other cancer specialists will tell you the same thing. Make the relationship with your doctor a working partnership. The best treatment relationship is one where you ask questions and participate in your care.

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Treatment is evolving. Traditionally, surgery has been the mainstay of treatment for most cancers. For example, a generation ago, women with breast cancer were treated with radical mastectomy. Today, in many cases the breast is preserved by removing only the cancerous lump and a safety tissue margin around the cancer, and following this with radiation therapy and sometimes chemotherapy and hormone treatments.

This approach can be as effective as more-extensive operations. Treatment options vary. Learn about your disease and the approaches commonly used to treat it. Some cancers respond better to radiation; others to chemotherapy or hormonal treatments. Some require one type of therapy; others a combination. At times, simple observation rather than treatment is enough.

Some cancers present few if any symptoms and cause few problems and little or no pain. They may even remain inactive for long periods of time. Treatment in those cases usually doesn't enhance your quality of life. Other cancers are aggressive and will likely cause major problems. Treatment in those cases may be warranted.

Ask what would happen without any treatment, and compare the answer with the expected results of treatment. Treatments have side effects.

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Understand what side effects to expect and what benefits the treatment offers. Then weigh your willingness to tolerate the side effects to reap the benefits. The goals of therapy can vary, and only you can decide what side effects you're willing to accept to achieve your goal.

For example, if you're a young person with a curable disease, you may be willing to tolerate very severe, short-term side effects for a chance of eliminating your disease. But if you are 85 and have an incurable disease, you may decide not to accept bad side effects if the goal is to live only an additional month or two.

For example, the doctor's statement that treatment will increase survival by 50 percent sounds great. But if 50 percent means increasing life from eight weeks to 12 weeks, and those remaining weeks are spent vomiting and battling nausea, weakness and fatigue, maybe you haven't gained much. Your doctor can outline a plan to prevent many side effects and otherwise treat or lessen others.

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In general, side effects are reversible, and helping you cope with them should be a focus of your doctor. Take the potential side effects into consideration when choosing a treatment, but also know that most aren't as bad as you've heard. They may have the best of intentions, but family and friends may overwhelm you with their research efforts.

And they can be overly enthusiastic in advocating aggressive treatment when they don't fully understand the side effects and outcomes.

But friends and family are crucial to survival. Numerous studies have correlated cancer survival with social contacts. But know your limits. It's OK to take a rest and regroup. Mayo Clinic does not endorse companies or products. Advertising revenue supports our not-for-profit mission.

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Mayo Clinic does not endorse any of the third party products and services advertised. A single copy of these materials may be reprinted for noncommercial personal use only. This content does not have an English version.

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