Common 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.

Common treatments for cancer

  • Surgery − Surgery can remove tumours from affected areas, such as the bowel or lymph nodes; relieve discomfort caused by tumours that obstruct organs or cause bleeding; and improve outcomes from chemotherapy and radiation therapy by reducing the size of a tumour.
  • Chemotherapy  − Chemotherapy uses drugs known as cytotoxics to kill or slow the growth of cancer cells. It can shrink 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.
  • Radiation therapy − Also known as radiotherapy, radiation therapy uses radiation, such as x-rays, to kill or injure cancer cells. 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.
  • Hormone therapy − Cancer that grows in response to hormones can often be slowed by taking drugs to suppress the body’s production of the hormone.
  • Immunotherapy − Immunotherapy uses drugs to alter the immune system’s response to the cancer. Some types work by permitting the immune system to bypass “checkpoints” set up by the cancer to block it. These drugs are approved to treat only some types of cancer.
  • Targeted therapy − Targeted therapy attacks specific particles (molecules) within cells that allow cancers to grow and spread, while minimising harm to healthy cells. Not all cancers respond to targeted therapy and it is sometimes available only on clinical trials.

This information was last reviewed in April 2017
View who reviewed this content
View our editorial policy

Support services

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

Cancer information

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