When your cancer treatment stops working
Cancer treatments can keep cancer from spreading and even cure early stage cancer for many people. But not all cancer can be cured. Sometimes, treatment stops working or the cancer reaches a stage where it cannot be treated. This is called advanced cancer.
When you have advanced cancer, you move into a different stage of life. It is a time when you start to think about the end of life. This is not easy, but it doesn't mean you don't have options. Some people live for years with advanced cancer. Learning about advanced cancer and knowing your options can help you make decisions that work best for you.
Talk with your health care provider about what advanced cancer means for you. No two people are alike. Find out what your treatment options are, what you can expect from treatment, and what the outcome may be. You may want to talk this over with your family, or have a family meeting with your provider, so you can plan ahead together.
Deciding About Treatment
You can still receive treatment when you have advanced cancer. But the goals will be different. Instead of curing cancer, treatment may help relieve symptoms and control cancer. This can help you be as comfortable as possible for as long as possible. It may also help you live longer.
Your treatment choices may include:
Talk with your provider about your options and weigh the risks and benefits. Most cancer treatments have side effects that can affect the quality of your life. Some people decide that the side effects are not worth the small benefit from treatment. Other people choose to continue treatment for as long as possible. This is a personal decision you'll need to make together with your provider.
Other Treatment Choices
When standard treatments no longer work for your cancer, you still have some choices about what type of care you'd like to get. Some options include:
Dealing with Symptoms of Advanced Cancer
You may think that symptoms will get worse as cancer progresses. This isn't always the case. You may have a few symptoms or none at all. Common symptoms include:
If you have any of these symptoms, it's important to tell your provider. DO NOT downplay symptoms. There are many treatments that can help you feel better. You should not have to be uncomfortable. Relieving symptoms can help you enjoy your life more fully.
Coping With Your Feelings
As a person with cancer, you may have felt anger, denial, sadness, anxiety, grief, fear, or regret. These feelings may be even more intense now. It's normal to feel a range of emotions. How you deal with your feelings is up to you. Here are things that may help.
Planning for the end of Life
This is a hard topic for many people to think about. But you may feel better knowing you have taken steps to prepare for the end of life, whatever that means to you. Here are some ways you may want to plan ahead:
It's not easy to face the end of your life. Yet living day-to-day and working to appreciate your life and the people around you can bring a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction. This can help you make the most of the time you have.
American Cancer Society website. Understanding advanced cancer, metastatic cancer, and bone metastasis. www.cancer.org/content/cancer/en/treatment/understanding-your-diagnosis/advanced-cancer/what-is.html. Updated December 15, 2016. Accessed August 22, 2018.
Nabati L, Abrahm JL. Caring for patients at the end of life. In: Niederhuber JE, Armitage JO, Doroshow JH, Kastan MB, Tepper JE, eds. Abeloff's Clinical Oncology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 46.
National Cancer Institute website. Coping with advanced cancer. www.cancer.gov/publications/patient-education/advancedcancer.pdf. Updated May 2014. Accessed August 22, 2018.
Ramchandran KJ, von Roenn JH. What is the role for palliative care in patients with advanced cancer? In: Goldstein NE, Morrison RS, eds. Evidence-Based Practice of Palliative Medicine. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2013:chap 48.
Review Date: 7/26/2018
Reviewed By: Todd Gersten, MD, Hematology/Oncology, Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute, Wellington, FL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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