Rose Gutierrez has a big decision to make.
Gutierrez, who was diagnosed with breast cancer last spring, had surgery and 10 weeks of chemotherapy. But the cancer is still there. Now Jasmine Wong, a surgeon at the University of California, San Francisco, is explaining the choices—Gutierrez can either have another lumpectomy followed by radiation, or she can get a total mastectomy.
“I think both options are reasonable,” Wong said. “It’s just a matter of how you feel personally about preserving your breast, how you feel about having radiation therapy.”
“I’m kind of scared about that,” said Gutierrez, 52, sitting on an exam table with her daughter on a chair beside her.
“Well if you made it through chemo, radiation is going to be a lot easier,” Wong told Gutierrez, who is from Merced, California.
In many hospitals and clinics around the country, oncologists and surgeons simply tell cancer patients what treatments they should have, or at least give them strong recommendations. But here, under a formal process called “shared decision-making,” doctors and patients are working together to make choices about care.
It might seem like common sense: Each patient has different priorities and preferences; what’s right for one patient may be wrong for another. Of course patients should weigh in. But many aren’t accustomed to speaking up. Even the most engaged or educated patients may defer to their doctors because they are scared, they don’t want to be seen as difficult, or they think the doctor knows best.