Helping Patients Prepare for Cancer Treatment Decisions

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Under the stress of a cancer diagnosis and overwhelmed with the influx of information, patients often report that they feel unprepared to engage fully in the discussion with their health-care provider around a critical treatment decision. Consequently, the Cancer Support Community—an international nonprofit providing support, education, and hope to people affected by cancer—has developed Open to Options, a free treatment decision support program that helps patients identify and prioritize questions and concerns to share with their health-care team during a pivotal medical visit in which a treatment decision may be made. 

By helping the patient better prepare for these discussions, Open to Options enables the health-care provider to focus in on the key questions and concerns a patient may bring to the appointment. Physicians and patients alike report that this creates a more productive and focused appointment resulting in a personalized and appropriate treatment decision. 

Open to Options professional counselors help patients create a written personalized list of prioritized questions and concerns that can be brought to an upcoming medical appointment or sent to the health-care provider in advance. No medical advice is given nor do the Open to Options counselors help patients weigh one treatment option against another. 

Pilot Program

An Open to Options pilot program was funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and developed by the Cancer Support Community, the Education Network to Advance Cancer Clinical Trials, and Jeffrey Belkora, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Surgery and Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy Studies, and UCSF Director, Decision Services, UCSF Breast Care Center, San Francisco. Patients participating in the pilot program reported feeling: 

  • Less anxious about their upcoming doctor appointment 
  • More positive about what was accomplished in the appointment 
  • Better about the treatment decision that was made 
  • More informed and aware of whether a clinical trial might be a good treatment option for them

The free serviceis available by appointment through a toll-free cancer support helplinein English and Spanish for any type of cancer at any stage of the patient journey, and at select Cancer Support Community centers nationwide. For more information, including helpline hours and local centers where the service is currently offered, visit the Cancer Support Community website at or call 1-888-793-9355. ■