Choosing care and treatment for advanced cancer

Treatment doesn’t end when cancer is advanced – but it does change. Making decisions about treatment and care when you have advanced cancer isn’t easy.

If you have advanced cancer, it is important to think about your future care and treatment. Part of the planning includes telling your family and friends what kind of health and personal care you want if you ever can’t speak for yourself.

Talk to your healthcare team about what your treatment options are and how you can make the best decisions for you.

Who decides?

Only you can make the treatment and care decisions that are right for you. Some people choose to explore every option that might help them live longer, even for a week or month. Others are more concerned with their quality of life during the time they have left.

You may decide that you no longer wish to have treatments that are intended to help you live as long as possible. You may have many reasons to make this decision. You also have the right to change your mind later on and have treatment.

Give yourself time to think carefully about your options. Talk with your caregivers, family and members of your healthcare team.

Along the way, many people will offer advice, and what your family wants will be important. Your family may find it hard to accept your decision about treatment, but you need to decide what is best for you. Even when goals or choices differ, do your best to discuss them with honesty and respect.

Your caregivers and family can play an important role as advocates – getting information, asking questions and working with your healthcare team to make sure that you get the best possible care.

Changes to your healthcare team

An advanced cancer diagnosis often leads to changes in your healthcare team. You may not see the same healthcare professionals that you used to see. For example, you may now have a pain specialist on your team, and you may have home care nurses and aides.

It’s normal to miss the support of healthcare professionals who helped you earlier in the cancer journey. You may have known them for a long time and become very comfortable with them. But your new team has special skills and training that can help support you and your caregivers now.

Expert review and references

  • Choosing Wisely Canada. Care at the End of Life for Advanced Cancer Patients: When to Stop Cancer Treatment .
  • Drake K. Quality of life for cancer patients: from diagnosis to treatment and beyond. Nursing Management . 2012.
  • Esper P . Principles and issues in palliative care. Yarbro, CH, Wujcki D, & Holmes Gobel B. (eds.). Cancer Nursing: Principles and Practice. 7th ed. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett; 2011: 74: pp. 1815-1828.
  • Paice JA . Care during the final days of life. Yarbro, CH, Wujcki D, & Holmes Gobel B. (eds.). Cancer Nursing: Principles and Practice. 7th ed. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett; 2011: 75: pp. 1829-1842.
  • Schaefer KG, Selvaggi K & Abrahm JL . Specialized care of the terminally ill. DeVita VT Jr, Lawrence TS, & Rosenberg SA. Cancer: Principles & Practice of Oncology. 9th ed. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer Health/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2011: 20(175): pp. 2481-2490.

Medical disclaimer

The information that the Canadian Cancer Society provides does not replace your relationship with your doctor. The information is for your general use, so be sure to talk to a qualified healthcare professional before making medical decisions or if you have questions about your health.

We do our best to make sure that the information we provide is accurate and reliable but cannot guarantee that it is error-free or complete.

The Canadian Cancer Society is not responsible for the quality of the information or services provided by other organizations and mentioned on, nor do we endorse any service, product, treatment or therapy.

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