Back

Decision Making

Dice showing captions yes, no and maybe

Dealing with breast cancer requires decision making. Many of these decisions have to do with your health, cancer treatment and lifestyle. Some of these decisions can be challenging and you may need to seek further information and support to help reach a decision.

This Navigator topic includes information to help you when making decisions in relation to living with a breast cancer diagnosis, during and after treatment. It also includes information on genetic breast cancers, which may affect the decisions you make about treatment and communicating with your family.

The information contained in the other Navigator topics is also available to assist you when making decisions in relation to particular areas of your treatment, health and lifestyle.


Last Updated: 10 December, 2020 9:44 am

The following questions may assist when communicating with your treating health professionals to gain the information you need when faced with difficult decisions.

Also refer to the other navigator topics for examples of questions that can help in decision making.

  • How do I choose the best health practitioner/cancer specialist for my needs?
  • Am I able to talk to my doctor/breast care nurse? Do they listen to my questions and try to provide me the information I need?
  • Who can I bring to my appointments?
  • What are my treatment options?
  • What are the side effects, risks and benefits of this treatment?
  • What are the risks of not proceeding with the treatment?
  • Who can I talk to for help in making decisions?
  • Who can help me to understand my pathology report?
  • What are the costs involved in treatment?
  • What costs are covered by Medicare/Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme? Private Health Insurance?
  • What are my rights as a patient of this service?
  • Will I need to take time off my work/study/other commitments?
  • How will I care for my children during treatment?
  • Where can I talk to someone who has been through this treatment?
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of going on a clinical trial?
  • How do I get a second opinion?
  • What do I do if I am unhappy with my treatment?
  • What does 'reducing my risk' mean for me?
  • Can I use complementary therapies - e.g. massage, reflexology, supplements?
  • What support is there available for my partner/family?

Listed below are a number of key organisations, both in Australia and overseas, that provide information and support relevant to decision making around living with a breast cancer diagnosis. The links below will take you to the home page of the organisation where you can search for your own information.

Counterpart (formerly BreaCan) (AUS)

Counterpart (formerly BreaCan) is a unique free information and support service for Victorian women living with breast or gynaecological cancers. Women can connect and speak with trained peer support volunteers who have experienced cancer themselves or cared for someone who has. We also have a resource library for Victorian women.

Cancer Council Victoria (VIC)

The Victorian arm of the Cancer Council provides up to date information on all cancer conditions. There is a Cancer Helpline available by phone for general information on cancer treatment. Questions can also be communicated by email.

Breast Cancer Network Australia (AUS)

An Australia-wide organisation that provides information, support and advocacy on breast cancer issues, from diagnosis through to life after treatment.

Consumer Health Forum (AUS)

The Consumer Health Forum is the peak body organisation involved representing the interests of Australian healthcare consumers.

Family Cancer Services (AUS)

Familial or genetic testing for people with, or at risk of, an inherited cancer are provided by some major hospitals. Refer to the page from the Cancer Council on 'Family Cancer Centres' for service locations and contact information.

Breast Care Nurses (McGrath Breast Care Nurse Directory) (AUS)

Breast care nurses are specially trained registered nurses who act as patient advocates, and coordinate care for women experiencing breast cancer. They provide specialist breast cancer support and resources which can assist you in making decisions around breast cancer. Click on 'Get Support' to find a Nurse in your area.

Pink Hope

Pink Hope provides support and information to Australians at an increased risk of, or diagnosed with, genetic breast and ovarian cancers.

The online resources recommended below include links to important information relevant to this area that is primarily available online or can be printed off as a contained document. The link will take you to the section that is relevant to this navigator topic.

Some of the links to organisations' websites may be repeated in the ‘Key organisations’ section of this navigator in recognition of the important role these organisations play in support for people living with cancer.

Cancer Council; Victorian Government - Breast cancer: your guide to best cancer care (AUS)

An interactive web portal that guides you through the specific steps and recommended care for each stage of breast cancer treatment. This is particularly useful as background information before discussions with your treatment team. Click the link to download as a printable fact sheet.

Victorian Government; Cancer Council - What to expect - Cancer 2018 (AUS)

Information for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who have cancer. This document describes the care that should be provided at each step of the cancer pathway in Australia. It is the patient’s version of the Optimal Care Pathways for health professionals. Includes links for support and information. Also available as a PDF fact sheet.

Cancer Council NSW - Making treatment decisions 2017 (AUS)

In this 6th episode of the 'The thing about cancer' podcast, Julie McCrossin and Professor Lyndal Trevena discuss the process of making treatment decisions.

Call someone - Cancer Survival Guide 2018 (AUS)

Episode 1 of this podcast explains the role of the cancer nurses working on the Cancer Council telephone service, who can provide a reliable source of information if questions arise.

Jean Hailes for Women's Health - Making decisions about your health (AUS)

The section on 'Making decisions about your health' on the Jean Hailes website includes information on choosing a doctor, evaluating the validity of online information, and questions to consider when making a health-related decision. The website also contains a large range of information and resources on women's health and well-being.

Breast Cancer Network Australia (BCNA) - My Journey online tool 2018 (AUS)

Formerly the My Journey Kit, this tool is now online. Sign up to access information that can be tailored to your own situation. Find information on decision making in the 'Health system and your choices' section, as well as the 'Treatment' section.

Aboriginal health - Cancer Survival Guide 2018 (AUS)

In episode 5 of this podcast an Aboriginal Support Worker and two practice nurses discuss the extra supports available for people from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities undergoing cancer treatment.

Ottawa Hospital Research - Ottawa Patient Decision Aids (CAN)

Two online tools are available on the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute website to aid in decision making around tough health issues. The aids include a personal decision making guide to complete individually, and a family decision making guide to complete with a family member. The tool helps to identify your knowledge, values, support and level of certainty when faced with decisions. The tool can be completed online and printed off.

Cancer Council Victoria - Emotions (VIC)

This page of the Cancer Council Victoria website has information on managing 'unhelpful' thinking that can lead to worry, anxiety and despondency. Scroll down to 'Treatment decisions'.

Cancer Council Victoria - Making Decisions About Your Care (VIC)

An explanation of what you can reasonably expect from the health care system and your treating team. Scroll to the bottom of the page to download or request a copy of the booklet 'Cancer care and your rights' 2019.

Cancer Australia - Your Risk and Breast Cancer (AUS)

Australian government website includes a section on understanding 'Your risk and breast cancer'. The section includes a 'risk calculator' for women who have not had breast or ovarian cancers.

Patient.co.uk - 'Calculating Absolute Risk and Relative Risk' (UK)

This article, published on the UK medical information website 'Patient.co.uk', provides information on weighing up absolute and relative risk when making decisions about undergoing medical treatment.

Consumer Health Forum of Australia (AUS)

The CHF is an Australian peak body organisation representing the interests of health care consumers. The CHF website has a range of fact sheets (under 'publications'), including a consumer guide to clinical trials, how to safely use medications, and how to understand the Medical Benefits Scheme (MBS).

Cancer Australia - Australian Cancer Trials (AUS)

This Australian government website has details on what clinical trials involve, what to consider when deciding whether to go on a trial, and search function to find specific drug trials.

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre - What is a clinical trial? (US)

The section 'How to decide whether a clinical trial is right for you?' contains key questions to consider and ask of health practitioners. While this is an American organisation, the types of questions are relevant to an Australian setting. The website also contains information on using complementary therapies.

Breast Cancer Network Australia - Breast cancer in the Family (AUS)

This webpage on the BCNA website includes information on the link between cancer and family history, what to do reduce your risk of developing cancer, and available resources. BCNA also offer an online forum on this topic.

FORCE (Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered) (US)

Not for profit American organisation for women with a BRCA mutation or family history of cancer. The website provides links to news boards and information on research relevant to decision making in this area. A webinar is available on 'Decision making surrounding hereditary cancer' (located under the 'FORCE events' section) which includes discussion on weighing up preventative surgery with other treatment options.

Breast Cancer Trials - 'What is a clinical trial?' (AUS)

Explanation of what a clinical trial is, and how and why people might choose to take part. Links to current clinical trials.

Breast Cancer Network Australia - Beware Dr Google: A guide to reliable breast cancer information on the internet

This print-friendly fact sheet provides tips on finding reliable online health information following your breast cancer diagnosis. Includes a list of some websites that provide good quality information.

Westmead Breast Cancer Institute - Family history of breast cancer (2017, AUS)

Available as a web page or to download as a PDF booklet, this resource explains genetic breast cancer risks in simple language. Includes monitoring information for women who have been found to be at risk, and the role of genetic counselling and testing.

Breast Cancer Network Australia - Family history (2017, AUS)

This fact sheet explains when family history may be important in breast cancer risk and the options available if you have concerns about a strong family history. It can be downloaded as a PDF or ordered in hard copy.

If you are referred to a genetics specialist (UK)

This page explains what happens when you see a genetics specialist, including a detailed explanation of the collection of family history. As this resource is UK-focused, treatment and support services are not available to Australians.

Genetic Support Network of Victoria - Find a genetic service (AUS)

Search for genetics services within Victoria. On results pages, services are listed by type and may include a section on ‘Cancer Genetics Clinics’. For services nationwide, scroll down the page to a full list of Australian clinical genetics services.

Cancer Council Victoria - Familial Breast Cancer (AUS)

This page discusses genetic breast cancer risk, with particular emphasis on BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations. Links to further information at the bottom of the page.

Centre for Genetics Education, NSW Health - Understanding genetic tests for breast and ovarian cancer that runs in the family: information and decision aid

This booklet contains information for women who are considering genetic testing for BRCA1 and BRCA2 breast and ovarian cancer that runs in the family.

Centre for Genetics Education, NSW Health - Breast and ovarian cancer and inherited predisposition, Fact sheet 32 (2018, AUS)

Scroll down to download a PDF copy of fact sheet number 32. This fact sheet explains how breast and ovarian cancer might be inherited, incidence, and the role of genetic counselling and testing. Focuses on BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations.

The resources below are online or hard copy books that you can source from the BreaCan library, your local bookstore, library or online. Some of the selected books have dedicated sections on decision making, as well as a range of other information that can help you in decision making around living with a cancer diagnosis.

'Breast Cancer, Taking Control' (book) by J. Boyages

This book by an Australian cancer specialist provides a comprehensive overview of breast cancer diagnosis, treatment and adjustment to life after treatment. The book covers many common decisions faced by women diagnosed with breast cancer and provides important information to consider when making decisions.

Boycare Publishing, Australia (2010)

View Details Online

‘A Woman’s Decision, Breast Care, Treatment and Reconstruction’ (book) by K. Berger and J. Bostwick

This is the 4th edition of this popular book that provides explanations of a woman's choices about surgery following a breast cancer diagnosis. Includes treatment, breast preservation and reconstruction. Please note that this book has a US focus, but is still very relevant for women in Australia. Includes illustrations and photographs.

Quality Medical Publishing, Missouri USA (4th edition, 2011)

View Details Online

'The Human Side of Cancer' (book) by J. Holland and S. Lewis

Written from an evidence based perspective by authors with a medical background, this book includes a section on ‘working together’ with your medical practitioner to help gather information you need and make decisions. It includes a discussion about coping emotionally with the cancer experience, and explores the use of complementary therapies.

Harper Collins, New York (2nd edition, 2000)

View Details Online

'The complete guide to breast cancer: how to feel empowered and take control' (book) by T. Greenhalgh & L. O'Riordan

British authors Professor Trish Greenhalgh and Dr Liz O'Riordan both have medical backgrounds, and were both diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015. This book describes the experiences from diagnosis to life after treatment.

Vermillion, London, UK, 2018

View Details Online

Dr Susan Love's Breast Book (6th ed.) (US)

This comprehensive and well regarded book on breast cancer includes a section on making decisions about treatment in context to an individual’s personal situation, body and diagnosis.

Love, SM, and Lindsey K, Perseus 2015

View Details Online

This list directs you to websites containing personal stories in both written and video format, and may include blogs and online forums. The information contained in these links reflects the personal experiences of individuals and does not constitute evidence-based research or information.

Counterpart (formerly BreaCan) (VIC)

Counterpart (formerly BreaCan) is a unique free information and support service for Victorian women living with breast or gynaecological cancers. Women can speak with peer support volunteers who have all experienced cancer and confronted the decisions that arise during and after treatment.

Breast Cancer Network Australia - 'The Beacon' newsletter (AUS)

'The Beacon' newsletter is published quarterly by Breast Cancer Network Australia (BCNA) and features many personal stories of women who have been through breast cancer treatment. BCNA also hosts online forums on a range of topics which feature personal stories of women confronted by breast cancer decisions.

FORCE (Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered) (US)

Not-for-profit American organisation for women with a BRCA mutation or family history of cancer. It provides links to news boards, chat rooms and personal stories of women confronted by decision making in this area.

'A Woman's Decision - Breast Care, Treatment and Reconstruction' (book) by K. Berger and J. Bostwick

This comprehensive book explores decision making in relation to breast cancer treatment, in particular surgical interventions and reconstruction surgery. The book features 14 personal stories of women with a range of different personal stories about their breast cancer experience. (Quality Medical Publishing, Missouri: 4th edition, 2011)

Pink Hope - Personal stories (AUS)

This is a collection of personal stories from women who have experienced genetic breast or ovarian cancers.

Also refer to the Personal Stories pages of the Life After Treatment navigator topic and the other information navigator topics available.