Medical treatment is a key part of palliative care. It aims to manage the physical and emotional symptoms of cancer without trying to cure the disease. There is no single program of palliative treatment. The treatment you are offered will be tailored to your individual needs and will depend on the type of cancer you have, how far it has spread, your symptoms, and the amount of support you have.
Some examples of palliative medical treatment are:
- radiation therapy to reduce pain (e.g. if cancer has spread to the bones or a tumour is pressing on nerves or organs)
- chemotherapy or targeted therapy to stop the cancer growing into other organs
- surgery to reduce tumours causing pain or other symptoms
- medicines to control symptoms and relieve discomfort.
Here are some common cancer treatments that can be used palliatively. If you are having these treatments, you may experience side effects, such as nausea or fatigue. Let your palliative care team know about any side effects so they can be managed.
Learn more about:
- Making treatment decisions
- Common treatments
- Managing symptoms
- Complementary therapies
- Taking part in a clinical trial
You have the right to say no to any treatment offered, but your medical team need to be confident that you understand the nature of the treatment proposed and the possible consequences of not having it. You do not have to accept treatments on an all-or-nothing basis – you can refuse some and accept others. Treatments for advanced cancer can cause significant side effects, and some people choose not to have active treatment for the cancer but to focus on controlling their symptoms to reduce pain and discomfort.
Listen to our podcast on Making Treatment Decisions.
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.
Click below to download a PDF booklet on this topic.
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