Supporting Treatment Decision Making

Supporting Treatment Decision Making

How Do I Help My Loved One Make Treatment Decisions?

After a diagnosis of skin cancer, your loved one must come to terms with the diagnosis, seek treatment, and make decisions about treatment. You can play an essential role in helping your loved one with these initial crucial steps.

Initial Support

One of the first ways to help is to work with your loved one to seek treatment—this can mean helping to find appropriate physicians and helping to set appointments. It’s important to find a provider or a team of providers familiar with the most recent and advanced treatment options for skin cancer. A list of physicians specializing in skin cancer can be found in our FIND A SKIN CANCER SPECIALIST portal.

You may also need to help your loved one in the decision-making process if there are treatment options. Sometimes there is only one recommended treatment for cancer; other times options exist. If the cancer is at an early stage, the options can include topical agents, excisional surgery, Mohs Micrographic surgery, or skin-directed radiation therapy. Understanding the options and the pros and cons of each can help you to help your loved one in the decision-making process.

If the cancer grows into the surrounding tissues or spreads (metastasizes) to other organs in the body, your loved one may require treatment with a therapy that works throughout the body (systemic therapy) or radiation therapy. To be able to make an informed decision, you will both want to become familiar with these treatment options. This website discusses approved treatment options for basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell skin cancer (SCSC). AIM at Melanoma, our parent organization, provides a thorough explanation of treatment options for each stage of melanoma.

For the patient, initial meetings with multiple specialists can be overwhelming. A cancer diagnosis (or a cancer recurrence) can be a very emotional experience, and your loved one can shut down mentally. S/he may not absorb the information being presented. You can offer support by attending appointments, listening to healthcare providers, taking notes, and asking questions.

Making a Treatment Plan

You may need to assist your loved one in treatment decision-making. You can help in the following ways:

  • Being the eyes and ears of the patient: offer support by listening and communicating with the health care providers and taking notes for the patient
  • Being a researcher: assist in gathering vetted and current information in order to ask relevant questions of healthcare providers
  • Supporting decision-making: assist with various decisions that need to be made while figuring out treatment options, such as whether a second opinion is necessary, what the treatment approach should be, and how to address financial considerations

Being an Advocate

Your advocating role begins at diagnosis and is crucial throughout the treatment process, especially if or when your loved one can’t advocate for him/herself. To advocate, you might:

  • Assist with scheduling appointments
  • Accompany your loved one to appointments, take notes, and ask questions
  • Be a conduit for medical information for others with the approval of your loved one. (You will need a signed release to receive medical information. Read here for a discussion of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) policies.
  • Keep track of appointments and provide or arrange transportation
  • Coordinate care among various healthcare providers
  • Assist with or oversee financial issues and health insurance claims
  • Address any disability or legal issues

As an advocate, you should encourage your loved one to speak for him/herself if possible, but your role as caregiver may involve serving as a bridge-builder between your loved one, the healthcare team, and other family members. Establishing communication pathways can be very helpful and reassuring to everyone involved.

Questions to Ask Your Doctor

It’s often helpful to bring a list of questions to ask the doctor at each appointment. Here are questions we have developed for use at various stages of the treatment journey. Click on each section for a downloadable PDF of questions.

When pathology reports are received

At various appointments related to the surgery:

When starting therapies: