- Cancer Information
- Advanced cancer
- Living with advanced cancer
- Key questions
- How long have I got?
How long have I got?
After a diagnosis of advanced cancer, some people want to find out how long they have left to live, while others prefer not to know. It’s a very personal decision. If you would like to know the expected outcome (prognosis) of the cancer, you will need to talk to your doctor. This is a difficult question for your doctor to answer and you may find their response is vague. As everyone is different, a doctor can give you an estimate based on what usually happens to people in your situation, but can’t say exactly what will happen to you. The actual time could be longer or shorter.
Not all people with advanced cancer die from it – for some people, improved treatments can keep the disease under control for months or years. Other people find that different health issues become more serious than the cancer.
Some people find the uncertainty of having advanced cancer the most challenging aspect. When faced with the possibility of dying, people often think about what they’d like to achieve in the time they have left. They may begin to live day by day, or take control of their life by completing practical tasks, such as preparing a will or advance care directive, or planning the funeral. For further details, see Planning ahead.
The prognosis is based on statistics, and it’s entirely possible that you will be on the good side of those statistics, and make it way beyond whatever your oncologist tells you.
Prof Nicholas Glasgow, Head, Calvary Palliative and End of Life Care Research Institute, ACT; Kathryn Bennett, Nurse Practitioner, Eastern Palliative Care Association Inc., VIC; Dr Maria Ftanou, Head, Clinical Psychology, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, and Research Fellow, Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, The University of Melbourne, VIC; Erin Ireland, Legal Counsel, Cancer Council NSW; Nikki Johnston, Palliative Care Nurse Practitioner, Clare Holland House, Calvary Public Hospital Bruce, ACT; Judy Margolis, Consumer; Linda Nolte, Program Director, Advance Care Planning Australia; Kate Reed- Cox, Nurse Practitioner, National Clinical Advisor, Palliative Care Australia; Helena Rodi, Project Manager, Advance Care Planning Australia; Kaitlyn Thorne, Coordinator Cancer Support, 13 11 20, Cancer Council Queensland.
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Coping with cancer?
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Practical advice and support during and after treatment