Advanced cancer is a term commonly used to describe primary or secondary cancer that is unlikely to be cured. Health professionals may also use the terms secondary, metastatic, and progressive cancer to describe cancer that has moved beyond early stages. Sometimes health professionals don’t use a particular name. While advanced cancer usually cannot be cured, it can often be treated. Treatment can sometimes slow growth and spread of the cancer for months or years. Treatment can also help reduce symptoms, such as pain.
This page outlines:
- What happens now?
- What treatment options are available to me?
- Am I going to die?
- What is palliative care?
- Caring for someone with advanced cancer
- Seeking support
What happens now?
You will need time to deal with the news that the cancer is advanced. You may want time to think about things like treatment and practical issues. You may feel overwhelmed at first. It can help to talk about your emotions and have strategies to cope with them. Partners, family members and friends can be good sources of support.
What treatment options are available to me?
The type of treatment you have will depend on where the cancer started, how much it has spread, and your general health and preferences. The most commonly offered treatments include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, surgery, biological therapy and hormone therapy, or a combination of these treatments.
You can discuss your treatment options with your doctor, as treatment is personalised and important, no matter what stage the cancer is at. Some people may decide that they don’t want to have any further active cancer treatment. Others feel that palliative care or pain management or rehabilitation would be beneficial.
Am I going to die?
Some people immediately think of death when they learn they have advanced cancer. Other people wonder how they will break the news to their family. Fear at the thought of what lies ahead is common, as is worry about pain, loss of control, and loneliness. Others feel relieved.
To know the expected outcome (prognosis) of the cancer, you will need to talk to your doctor. Your prognosis will depend on how the type of cancer you have been diagnosed with behaves and responds to treatment.
Not all people with advanced cancer die from it – other factors can intervene. Some people do unexpectedly go into remission, with signs and symptoms of cancer no longer present. For other people, different health issues become more serious than the cancer.
When faced with the possibility of dying, some people begin to live day by day. Others find that preparing more consciously for death, such as preparing a will or the funeral, helps them to feel more in control of their life.
If you have questions about dying, call Cancer Council for a free copy of Facing End of Life: A guide for people dying with cancer, their family and friends.
What is palliative care?
Palliative care allows people with advanced cancer to maintain their quality of life in a way that is meaningful to them. It also provides support to families and carers. Read more about understanding palliative care.
Caring for someone with advanced cancer
Being a carer can be stressful. You may be concerned about how the person with cancer will be affected, if they will be in pain, become depressed, or die. You can view more information on caring for someone with cancer online or refer to the Caring for Someone with Cancer booklet.
It is normal to experience a range of emotions when you find out you have advanced cancer. You will need time to gather your thoughts and feelings. You and your family or carers will also need to consider practical and financial issues. Cancer Council has many professional services and support programs that are here to help you.
Click on our services below to find out more about:
You don’t have to face cancer alone – we’re here to help.
For more information refer to the Living with Advanced Cancer booklet. You can download a PDF or order a hard copy.
The information available on this page should not be used as a substitute for advice from a properly qualified medical professional who can advise you about your own individual medical needs. It is not intended to constitute medical advice and is provided for general information purposes only. See our Disclaimer.