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Coping with advanced cancer

Advanced cancer means the cancer has spread to other areas of the body. It might have come back after your original treatment. Unfortunately advanced cancers can't usually be cured. 

The aim of treatment is to control the cancer and relieve symptoms. Your doctors and nurses will help you to make the most of life and feel as good as possible for as long as possible.

How you might feel

Finding out that you can’t be cured is distressing and can be a shock. It’s common to feel uncertain and anxious. It's normal to not be able to think about anything else.

Lots of information and support is available to you, your family and friends. It can help to find out more about your cancer and the treatments you might have. Many people find that knowing more about their situation can make it easier to cope.

    Talk to your doctor or nurse to understand:

    • what your diagnosis means
    • what is likely to happen
    • what treatment is available
    • how treatment can help you

    Talking about advanced cancer

    Your friends and relatives might be able to support you and talk to you about your cancer. Sharing can help to increase trust and support between you and make it easier to plan ahead. But some families are scared of the emotions this could bring up. So they may not want to discuss it. They might worry that you won't be able to cope with your situation.

    It can strain relationships if your family or friends don't want to talk. You can help your family and friends by letting them know you would like to discuss what’s happening and how you feel.

    You might find it easier to talk to someone outside your own friends and family.

    Counselling might help you find ways of coping with your feelings and emotions. You can call the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040, from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.

    Planning

    Thinking about your priorities and planning what you want to do can help you to feel more in control. You might want to talk about how you want to spend your time and what is and isn’t important to you.

    Some of your future plans might no longer be realistic. But you might get round to doing something you always wanted to do but weren’t able to make time for.

    Feeling as well as you can

    It is important that you feel as well as you possibly can. Tell your doctor or nurse about any symptoms you have so they can help to control them.

    Symptom control nurses are specialist nurses who can work with you and your doctor to help control any cancer symptoms. They can also help to improve your physical and emotional well being.

    If you don’t already have a symptom control nurse (sometimes called palliative care nurses or home care nurses) ask your specialist, GP, or hospital nurse to refer you. Some symptom control nurses will take direct referrals from patients or relatives.

    Many symptom control nurses have counselling training and can help you and your carers work through some of your emotions. If you have physical difficulties that make it hard to cope at home, your specialist nurse or a district nurse can talk to you about what may help you.

    Coping financially

    You might have extra expenses due to the cancer. Your specialist nurse or GP can help you get grants for heating costs, holidays or household expenses related to your illness.

    Ask to see a social worker. They can let you know which benefits or grants you can claim and help with the claiming process.  

    Who can help

    You can get emotional and practical support through your hospital, local hospice and GP practice. You can also get help from charities and support groups.

    Towards the end of life

    It’s natural to want to find out what is likely to happen in the last few weeks or days of life.

    You might need to choose where you want to be looked after and who you want to care for you.

    You can call the Cancer Research UK nurses if you have questions or want to talk about coping with advanced cancer. Call free on 0808 800 4040, from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.

    Information and help