Coping with secondary cancer

Coping with secondary cancer can be very difficult. Getting the help and support you and your family need can help.

Your treatment team and cancer organisations can offer emotional support or practical help.

Ask your doctor, GP or specialist nurse about a referral to the symptom control team. This is a team of doctors and nurses who may also be called the Palliative Care Team. They work with you and your doctor to help control your cancer symptoms and improve your physical well being.

Treatment for secondary cancer usually aims to control the cancer and help with symptoms. You will likely have further questions about:

  • treatment that is no longer working
  • the possibility of no further treatment

Common questions include:

  • How long do I have to live?
  • How will I die?
  • Will I have pain?
  • What will happen to me?

Write your questions down before you talk to your doctor or nurse to help you remember what you want to ask.

For support and information, you can call the Cancer Research UK information nurses. They can give advice about who can help you and what kind of support is available. Freephone: 0808 800 4040 - Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm.

The teams caring for you can support you and those close to you when exploring these questions. They can also help you prepare for the future. This is called advance care planning.

Coping with the news when cancer has come back or spread and thinking about the future is difficult. Many people worry about:

  • how they will die
  • what they can do to manage any symptoms
  • their friends and family

A great deal of help and support is available to you and your family.

Family and friends

Your family members might each react differently to your situation. It helps to try to respect each person's way of dealing with things and give each other space to talk. This may mean that you may wish to give your doctor permission to talk to your next of kin or other family members alone.

If you are a relative you may need to give the person with cancer the opportunity to talk to the doctor on their own.

More information

Dealing with a diagnosis of secondary cancer can affect your mental health. We have more information on how cancer can affect your mental health and where to get support.

  • Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology (12th edition)
    VT DeVita, TS Lawrence, SA Rosenberg
    Wolters Kluwer, 2023

  • End of life care

    NHS website
    Accessed August 2023

  • Oxford Textbook of Palliative Medicine (5th Edition)
    N Cherny and others
    Oxford University Press, 2015

Last reviewed: 
31 Aug 2023
Next review due: 
31 Aug 2026

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