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Coping with secondary cancer

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

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

Ask your specialist, GP or hospital nurse about referral to a symptom control nurse (sometimes called palliative care nurses or home care nurses). They work with you and your doctor to help control your cancer symptoms and improve your physical well being.

It is likely that you will have questions that are difficult to ask if treatment is no longer working or isn’t possible.

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, cope with 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 need 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: 
19 Oct 2017
  • Oxford Textbook of Palliative Medicine
    N.Cherny and others
    5th edition (2015)

  • Cancer and its management
    Tobias and Hochhauser
    7th ed. (2015)

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