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If cancer keeps growing or comes back after one kind of treatment, another treatment plan might still cure the cancer, or at least shrink it enough to help you live longer and feel better. But when a person has had many different treatments and the cancer has not been cured, even newer treatments might no longer be helpful. At this time you may have to weigh the possible benefits of trying a new treatment against the downsides, like treatment side effects and clinic visits.

This is likely to be the hardest time in your battle with cancer -– when you have tried everything within reason and it’s just not working anymore. Your doctor might offer you new options, but you will need to talk about whether the treatment is likely to improve your health or change your outlook for survival.

No matter what you decide to do, you should feel as good as possible. Make sure you are asking for and getting treatment for pain, nausea, or any other problems you have. This type of treatment is called palliative care. It helps relieve symptoms but is not meant to cure the cancer.

You can learn more about the changes that occur when treatment stops working, and about planning ahead for yourself and your family, in Advanced Cancer and Nearing the End of Life.

At some point you may want to think about hospice care. Most of the time, this type of care is given at home. Your cancer may be causing symptoms or problems that need to be treated. Hospice focuses on your comfort. You should know that having hospice care doesn’t mean you can’t have treatment for the problems caused by your cancer or other health issues. It just means that the purpose of your care is to help you live life as fully as possible and to feel as well as you can. You can read more about this in Hospice Care.

Staying hopeful is important, too. Your hope for a cure might not be as bright, but there is still hope for good times with family and friends – times that are filled with joy and meaning. Pausing at this time in your cancer treatment gives you a chance to focus on the most important things in your life. Now is the time to do some things you’ve always wanted to do and to stop doing the things you no longer want to do. Though the cancer may be beyond your control, there are still choices you can make.

Last Medical Review: 01/20/2015
Last Revised: 02/12/2016