Nearing the End of Life

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Nearing the End of Life

If you are reading this, chances are that you or someone close to you has advanced cancer. This probably means that cancer has spread from where it started to other parts of the body, or it has harmed vital tissues and organs.

At this point, you know that the cancer is not going away and you probably have limited time to live. Your doctor may have even told you that no treatment can really help stop your cancer and you have only a short time left. Patients and family members often have questions about what they should expect during these last months of life. The information shared here has been written to help answer some of those questions.

Thinking about death can be scary and painful, but it’s a time to focus on physical, spiritual, emotional, and family concerns. Sharing your goals, hopes, expectations, and concerns with your family, loved ones, and your health care team can help you through this time. Knowing what to expect and being prepared to deal with it can enable you to get the support and care you need so you can have the very best quality of life possible.

Learning that your cancer is advanced and that treatment is not helping may make you feel lost and afraid. This is natural. People have many questions, such as:

  • What’s going to happen to me?
  • Have I done everything I should have done?
  • What are my other options?
  • How much longer do I have?
  • How much control will I have over my life and my death?
  • Will my wishes about my care be followed?
  • How much pain and suffering will I have?
  • What if my doctor wants to continue treatment?
  • What am I going to do about money?
  • How long am I going to have to go through this?
  • How can I burden my family in this way?
  • Will this be too much for my family to bear?
  • What happens when I die?

The following may help you understand what to expect both physically and emotionally during these last few months. Hopefully, it will help you live fully and get the most out of this last phase of your life.

This is written for the person with cancer, but it can be helpful to the people who care for, love, and support someone with advanced cancer, too. Use this information to get answers to your questions and concerns about this very sensitive and difficult time.

There are also professional cancer information specialists who are ready to talk with you about these issues 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at our National Cancer Information Center. You can speak to one of them by calling 1-800-227-2345.


Last Medical Review: 01/14/2014
Last Revised: 02/06/2014