Here we look at what lies ahead after you are diagnosed with advanced cancer, and the options that are available for you moving forward.
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Prognosis means the expected outcome of a disease. Some people with advanced cancer want to know whether and when they are likely to die; others don’t wish to know. If you are referred to palliative care, it does usually mean that at some stage the cancer will shorten your life.
No-one can tell you exactly when you are going to die. Your doctors may be able to give a general indication of your life expectancy, based on an average patient, but everyone is unique and responds differently to treatment. If you ask for an estimate of the time you have left to live, your doctor will probably talk in terms of days to weeks, weeks to months, or months to many months. The actual time could be shorter or longer. Your team will work with you to ensure that you receive the best care to meet your changing needs.
Some families and carers want to know the prognosis even when you don’t. Let the palliative care team know your preferences and whether they can talk to your family or carer when you’re not there.
Dealing with death is difficult and confronting for most people and their families, whatever their cultural background or religious beliefs. Talking about any emotions you are experiencing may help you come to terms with your situation.
Feeling low or depressed is common after a diagnosis of advanced cancer. Consider sharing your thoughts with family and friends or speaking confidentially to a trained counsellor, social worker, psychologist or spiritual adviser.
Prof Katherine Clark, Clinical Director, Palliative Care, Northern Sydney Local Health District Cancer & Palliative Care Network, and Conjoint Professor, Northern Clinical School, University of Sydney, NSW; Richard Austin, Social Worker, Specialist Palliative Care Service, TAS; Sondra Davoren, Manager, Treatment and Supportive Care, McCabe Centre for Law and Cancer, VIC; A/Prof Brian Le, Director of Palliative Care, Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre – The Royal Melbourne Hospital and Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Cathy McDonnell, Clinical Nurse Consultant, Concord Centre for Palliative Care, Concord Hospital, NSW; Natalie Munro, Team Leader, PalAssist, QLD; Penelope Murphy, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council NSW; Kate Reed, Nurse Practitioner Clinical Advisor, Palliative Care Australia; Merrilyn Sim, Consumer. We also thank the health professionals, consumers and editorial teams who have worked on previous editions of this title. We particularly acknowledge the input of Palliative Care Australia and their permission to quote from €œBrian’s Story €_x009d_ in A Journey Lived – a collection of personal stories from carers (2005)
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.
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Practical advice and support during and after treatment
Key questions about advanced cancer
Answers to questions people may have when they are first told they have advanced cancer
End of life
Information for people who have been told that the end of life is near
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Guides and fact sheets for people with cancer, their families and friends