Common palliative treatments
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.
For some people, treatment will cause significant side effects, such as nausea or fatigue. It’s important to discuss any side effects with your palliative care team so they can be managed appropriately.
Learn about these common palliative cancer treatments:
Surgery can be used to:
- remove tumours from affected areas, such as the bowel or lymph nodes
- relieve discomfort caused by tumours blocking organs or pressing on nerves
- improve outcomes from chemotherapy and radiation therapy by reducing tumour size
- insert a thin tube (stent) into a blocked organ to create a passage for substances to pass through.
Learn more about Surgery.
Drugs are delivered into the bloodstream so the treatment can travel throughout the body. This is called systemic treatment, and includes:
- chemotherapy – the use of drugs to kill or slow the growth of cancer cells
- hormone therapy – drugs that stop the body’s natural hormones from helping some cancers to grow
- immunotherapy – treatment that triggers the body’s own immune system to fight cancer
- targeted therapy – drugs that attack specific molecules within cells that help cancer grow.
Some drug therapies can shrink a cancer that is causing pain because of its size or location; slow the growth of the cancer; and help control symptoms, including pain and loss of appetite. Other drug therapies can reduce inflammation and relieve symptoms such as bone pain.
The use of a controlled dose of radiation to kill or damage cancer cells so they cannot grow, multiply or spread. Radiation therapy can shrink tumours or stop them spreading further. It can also relieve some symptoms, such as pain from secondary cancer in the bones.
Learn more about Radiation therapy.
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.
The information on this page is also available for download.
Coping with cancer?
Speak to a health professional or to someone who has been there, or find a support group or forum
Need legal and financial assistance?
Pro bono services, financial and legal assistance, and no interest loans
Looking for transport, accommodation or home help?
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
View our publications
Guides and fact sheets for people with cancer, their families and friends