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

The aim of treatment for secondary cancer is usually to control the cancer and help with symptoms. It is likely that you will have further questions that may be related to treatment that is no longer working or 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 on freephone 0808 800 4040, from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. They can give advice about who can help you and what kind of support is available.

The teams caring for you, including the symptom control or palliative care teams, 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, and have concerns about their friends and family. There is a great deal of help and support 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.

Last reviewed: 
07 Apr 2020
Next review due: 
07 Apr 2023
  • Oxford Textbook of Palliative Medicine (5th Edition)
    N Cherny and others
    Oxford University Press, 2015

  • Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology (10th edition)
    VT De Vita, TS Lawrence and SA Rosenberg
    Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins, 2015

  • NHS website: End of life care
    Accessed March 2020