Quality of life

Before having cancer, you may not have thought a lot about your quality of life versus your quantity of life. You were just living it. Now, as you go through treatment or recover from treatment, quality of life may become a balancing act with quantity of life. Your healthcare team may use these terms when they talk to you and your loved ones.

In the simplest of terms, quality of life is your ability to do and enjoy the things in your life that mean the most to you while feeling as well as possible. It means different things to different people. Quantity of life is the amount of time that you live.

Even if you have a good prognosis, cancer may make you think about what is important to you and what you want to do with whatever time you have left, whether it is short or long. You may also discover what isn’t important to you or realize that there are things you don’t want to have in your life.

For some people living with cancer, the amount of time they have is very important. Your reason for wanting this time may be different from someone else’s – after all, everyone’s life goals or bucket list is different. You may want to travel somewhere new or go back to a favourite place. Perhaps you want to complete a project at home or learn a new skill. Or maybe seeing your children finish school, get married or have children is the most important thing to you. To be able to have this time, you may be willing to put up with treatment side effects that are very unpleasant or that last a long time. You may be willing to have as many treatments as possible or take part in a clinical trial that could give you more time.

Or you may find that your priority is to feel well enough to do what is most important for you for as long as you can. Some people do not want to continue treatments for a long time, especially when the side effects stop them from enjoying life. You may feel that after several different treatments, you would rather have some time to enjoy your life without being in treatment.

What quality of life means to you may change over time.

Talk to your healthcare team

Talk to your healthcare team about any concerns you have about your quality of life. They can tell you about how your treatment options and their side effects may affect your ability to enjoy the things in your life that mean the most to you. Your healthcare team can also find ways to help you cope with the quality of life issues that you are most worried about.

Expert review and references

  • Bottomley A. The cancer patient and quality of life. The Oncologist . 2002 : 7:120–125.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention . HRQOL Concepts . 2016 : https://www.cdc.gov/.
  • Drake K. Quality of life for cancer patients: from diagnosis to treatment and beyond. Nursing Management . 2012.
  • Estwing Ferrans C, Danaher Hacker E. Quality of life as an outcome of cancer care. Yarbro CH, Wujcki D, Holmes Gobel B (eds.). Cancer Nursing: Principles and Practice . 8th ed. Burlington, MA: Jones and Bartlett Learning; 2016: 8:207–225.
  • National Ovarian Cancer Coalition . Ovarian Cancer: Quality of Life Issues . 2006 : https://ovarian.org/.

Medical disclaimer

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