What is advanced cancer?
Cancer is a disease of the cells, which are the body’s basic building blocks. It occurs when abnormal cells divide and multiply in an uncontrolled way.
How cancer starts
There are many types of cancer and each type develops differently. Some grow slowly, some advance rapidly, and others behave unpredictably. Some types of cancer respond well to treatment, while other types are more difficult to treat.
The cancer that first develops in an organ or tissue is known as the primary cancer. It is considered locally advanced if the tumour is very large or the cancer has spread to nearby tissues.
How cancer spreads
If cancer cells from the primary site break away and travel through the bloodstream or lymph vessels to other parts of the body, they can grow and form another tumour at a new site. This is called a secondary cancer or metastasis. A cancer may spread to the lungs, brain, liver and bones. A metastasis keeps the name of the original cancer. For example, bowel cancer that has spread to the liver is still called metastatic bowel cancer, even though the main symptoms may be coming from the liver.
Although medical treatments may not be able to cure advanced cancer, they may be able to slow its growth or spread, sometimes for months or even years. Palliative care can also help manage cancer symptoms, which may include pain, and reduce side effects from cancer treatments. Other palliative care services can improve quality of life at any stage of advanced cancer.
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.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.