If you are lucky, your doctor says 'take all these numbers with you and go home and think about it'. If you are unlucky you forgot all the math you ever took and can't decide if a 60% survival rate is better than a 40% death rate. And if you are afraid of math, skipped too many classes, or just hate numbers, you get really stuck.
However we have now medical research to the rescue as this is has become a recognized issue:
"Many of the toughest decisions faced by cancer patients involve knowing how to use numbers – calculating, evaluating treatment options and figuring odds of medication side effects.
But for patients who aren't good at math, decision science research can offer evidence-based advice on how to assess numeric information and ask the right questions to make informed choices."
So there is a bunch of research that was done and you can go read it all. In my mind, what it boils down to is this (and write everything down):
- Ask your doctors for the numbers
- Ask them to explain what they mean without using numbers - is this better or worse than average?
- Ask about the risk in real numbers, not just in comparison. If something is 0.3% and its doubled, that is still a low risk.
- If there are too many numbers, ask your doctor to tell you what are the two best options and base your discussion and thought process on those.
Finally, take a number friendly person to go with you and explain all the numbers to you.
And stop worrying about all those missing math classes and forgotten algebra so you can help yourself determine the best treatment protocol for yourself.