Making treatment decisions throughout your care


As you go through treatment for metastatic breast cancer, you may find that over time the cancer stops responding to certain medicines. This means that even if the medicine is proved in studies to work against breast cancer, it is no longer working for you.

You might also find that though a treatment works, the side effects it causes are too much to handle. Maybe you are feeling too tired to enjoy your normal day-to-day activities, or the medicine causes pain that doesn’t go away with treatments.

These are all reasons you might change treatments for metastatic breast cancer. If you and your doctors find that one medicine isn’t right for you anymore, you’ll talk about other therapies that are available.

Preparing to make a decision

When a change is needed (or wanted), your healthcare team will focus on choosing a therapy that maintains your well-being while treating the cancer.

Communicating clearly with your healthcare team is always important, but especially when making treatment decisions. You will want to know about the benefits of a therapy as well as how its side effects might impact your daily life. Different people want different things from treatment:

  • The most important factor in making a decision for you may be how well the treatment works at reducing cancer.
  • Or, you may want to avoid certain side effects and have the highest possible quality of life.
  • Many seek to find a balance between treating the cancer and living life as you want to.

Your healthcare team needs to know what’s important to you in order to find treatment options comfortable to you.

Decisions related to side effects

Before changing treatment due to side effects, talk with your healthcare team about what you are experiencing. Many side effects can be lessened or even stopped through different approaches. Finding one that works for you can help you stay on the treatment longer and delay making a change until needed.

You and your doctor might talk about taking a treatment break. This stops treatment temporarily and can give you a break from side effects. It also may be suggested to allow time for a vacation or other important event.

Lowering the dose of the medicine you are taking may also ease side effects.

If those methods don’t help enough, you may want to talk with your doctor about other treatment options.

When change means a new decision

If a treatment stops working or its side effects become too much, there are more options out there today than in the past for people with metastatic breast cancer.

Your healthcare team may suggest new treatments. You might also learn about other therapies. Have a full discussion about your options.

Whenever you need to change treatment, ask about clinical trials for metastatic breast cancer. Your providers may have information on trials, or you may want to use online resources to find them. Bring the trial details to your doctor for discussion and decision-making.

Also, many cancer programs now have palliative care teams, who focus on your quality of life after diagnosis. These professionals include doctors, nurses, psychologists, social workers, physical therapists, and others who can support you with the physical and emotional challenges caused by cancer and its treatments. They also help people who are considering stopping treatment completely.


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Reviewed and updated: August 31, 2015

Reviewed by: Pallav K. Mehta, MD


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