Treatment for advanced cancer

Learning that you, or someone you care about, has advanced cancer can feel overwhelming.

The information on this page will help you to find out more about treatment for advanced cancer and how Maggie's can help.

The aim of treatment for advanced cancer

Advanced cancer usually means a cancer that can't be cured. However, it doesn't mean it can't be treated.

The aim of the treatment will be to slow down the cancer’s growth, reduce its size, ease symptoms, and help you live longer – perhaps for months or years.

Treatments for advanced cancer

The treatments you are offered will vary depending on the type of cancer you have, your symptoms, and any previous treatments you've had.

Your general health, how well you feel, and whether or not the cancer has spread to other areas will also be considered. 

Treatments for advanced cancer may include:

  • Chemotherapy
    A common treatment for advanced cancer, as it can help reach all parts of your body
  • Surgery
    Often used to relieve symptoms of advanced cancer. For example blockages or pain
  • Radiotherapy
    Used to relieve symptoms or shrink tumours down. This is known as palliative radiotherapy
  • Hormone therapy
    It may be used in advanced cancer to help stop or slow down cancer growth to improve quality of life, as well as living longer
  • Targeted therapy (biological therapy)
    Used more commonly in advanced cancer to block the growth and spread of cancer cells

Whatever treatment you have will be closely monitored. If they aren't working or you're having side effects you can't cope with then another treatment may be considered.

You may be offered a treatment which is part of a clinical research trial. Clinical trials help find improved ways to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer.

What if treatment stops working?

If the cancer is not responding, or the side effects are too serious, then the treatment you're on may be stopped and a new plan discussed with you.

If you decide not to have further treatment, you will still be offered ways to manage your symptoms. These are classed as palliative treatments, to relieve pain or other symptoms.

You may be referred to a palliative care team. These are specialists who work alongside your cancer doctors to treat symptoms, and provide emotional, practical and psychological support.

You may worry that a referral to palliative care means you are nearing the end of life. However, palliative care can start at any point from diagnosis, to help make sure you have all the support you need.

Emotions and advanced cancer

Hearing that you have advanced cancer or the treatment you're on is no longer working is really difficult and can be an emotional time for you and people around you.

Learn more about managing emotions when you have cancer.

How Maggie's can help

We're here for you and your family and can help you in lots of ways:

  • Our Cancer Support Specialists in our centres can talk through treatment options and guide you to the support that's right for you
  • Our Benefits Advisors can discuss money worries and help you claim what you're entitled to
  • Appointments with our psychologists to help manage difficult emotions
  • Relaxation and managing stress sessions
  • Eating well sessions with nutritional therapists
  • Exercise groups for all abilities including yoga, tai chi and walking
  • Future planning – we offer free Will-writing sessions with local solicitors
  • Meeting others in similar situations round the kitchen tables in our centres

You don’t need an appointment or referral, just come in.

Last review: Oct 2021 | Next review: Oct 2022

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