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Home > Understanding Breast Cancer > Working with Health Care Providers: Shared Decision-Making


Working with Health Care Providers: Shared Decision-Making



Talking with Your Doctor
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Questions to Ask the Doctor About Breast Cancer
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What is shared decision-making?

An important part of quality health care is shared decision-making between you and your health care provider. In shared decision-making, your provider shares information about your diagnostic tests and treatments and together you make decisions that best fit with your preferences, needs and values.

Shared decision-making and complementary therapy

Shared decision-making is important when considering complementary therapy as part of your breast cancer care. Not sharing information about complementary therapies with your providers may cause harm [3,17-18]. While some complementary therapies can be used with standard care, others have harmful side effects. Some interfere with the effectiveness of chemotherapy and radiation therapy. And, others can increase surgical risks (for example, some interfere with blood clotting, which can lead to excess bleeding). Talking to your health care provider about complementary therapies can help avoid such problems.

When complementary therapies are used with standard medical treatments, they are often called integrative therapies.

Using alternative therapies (instead of standard medical care) is not safe and is not recommended.

The importance of talking with your health care provider

Some people find it hard to talk to their health care provider about wanting to try complementary therapies along with their standard medical care. However, you should never hesitate to bring up issues that can impact your health. Your well-being is your provider's main concern. Knowing what complementary therapies you would like to try (or are already taking) is part of giving good care. Working together, you and your provider can make informed decisions about complementary therapies that offer potential benefits without harming you.

Tips for talking with your health care providers about complementary therapies

  • Don't be shy. Be open with your health care provider and share any thoughts, interests and concerns about complementary therapies.
  • Make a list. Before your office visit, write down the things you want to discuss with your provider and do your best to get through them all before you leave. (This is a useful tip for any office visit with your provider.)
  • Be specific about each therapy. For supplements, make a note of the name, the manufacturer and how much of the supplement you're thinking about or are already taking (or bring the supplements with you to your provider visit). For other types of therapies, make a note of the exact therapy, how often you'd like to use it and who (if anyone) will be providing it.
  • Keep a symptom diary. When you start a therapy, keep a daily diary of any side effects or relief from symptoms you feel.
  • One therapy at a time. Do not try more than one new complementary therapy at a time. If a side effect occurs, you will know which therapy is most likely causing the problem. And, if you get relief from symptoms, you will know which therapy is most likely helping. 
  • Discuss your use of complementary therapies at each office visit. Use your symptom diary to talk about how you've been feeling while using the therapy. 

Learn more about talking with your health care providers.

Updated 06/22/12 



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