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Treatment decisions for advanced cancer

Read about making treatment decisions when you have advanced cancer.

Deciding about treatment can be difficult when you have advanced cancer. Treatments such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy can help to reduce symptoms and might make you feel better. But they also have side effects that can make you feel unwell for a while.

You need to understand:

  • what treatment can do for you
  • how it might affect your quality of life
  • what side effects it has

Your doctor or specialist nurse can talk to you about the benefits and possible side effects. You can ask them questions.

You might also find it helps to talk things over with a close relative, a friend or a counsellor at the hospital.

We're here for you if you or someone close to you has cancer. You can call our Cancer Research UK nurses on 0808 800 4040, from Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm.

Types of treatment

Treatment depends on:

  • the size of the cancer and where it is in the body
  • the treatment you have already had
  • your general health

To shrink your cancer, slow its growth and relieve your symptoms your doctor might recommend:

  • surgery 
  • chemotherapy
  • radiotherapy
  • biological therapy 

Your choices

Your doctor might offer you a choice of treatments. Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each treatment with them and ask how they can control any side effects. This helps you make the right decision for you.

You also need to think about the other factors involved in each treatment, such as:

  • whether you need extra appointments
  • if you’ll need more tests
  • the distance you need to travel to and from hospital

You might need to make further choices as your situation changes. It helps to find out as much as possible each time.

You can stop radiotherapy or cancer drug treatments whenever you want to, if you find them too much to cope with.

If you decide not to have treatment

You can have medicines to help control symptoms such as sickness or pain if you decide not to have treatment such as hormone therapy or chemotherapy.

Your doctor or nurse will discuss with you what could help you. You can also ask them to refer you to a local symptom control team to give you support at home.

Last reviewed: 
02 Sep 2015
  • Metastatic colorectal cancer
    SMO clinical practice guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow up
    E van Cutsem and others
    Annals of Oncology 2014 Vol 25 (suppl 3): iii1-iii9

  • Colorectal cancer: the diagnosis and management of colorectal cancer
    The National Institute of Health and Care Excellence, November 2011

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