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Treatment decisions for 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

There are a number of treatments for advanced breast cancer. You might have:

  • hormone therapy
  • chemotherapy
  • radiotherapy
  • biological therapy
  • a combination of some of these

Controlling symptoms

Breast cancer that has spread to other parts of the body might cause symptoms. This might include problems with pain in your bones or feeling breathless. The symptoms you have depend upon where the cancer has spread to.

Treatment can help to control symptoms. This might be:

  • bisphosphonates to help with bone pain
  • a small tube to drain fluid from your lungs
  • medicated dressings if you have a wound at your tumour site

Chemotherapy, hormone therapy, radiotherapy and targeted cancer drugs can all help to control symptoms as well.

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 have medicines to help control symptoms such as sickness or pain if you decide not to have cancer treatments such as 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.

Support at home

Finding out cancer has spread can be a big shock. It might help to talk to a close friend or relative about how you feel.

You can phone the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040, from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.

Information and help

Dangoor sponsorship

About Cancer generously supported by Dangoor Education since 2010.