- Advanced Cancer
- What is advanced cancer?
- What is metastatic cancer?
- Can advanced or metastatic cancer be prevented?
- How is advanced cancer found?
- How is advanced cancer treated?
- Surgery for advanced cancer
- Ablative techniques for advanced cancer
- Radiation therapy for advanced cancer
- Drug treatment for advanced cancer
- Clinical trials
- Complementary and alternative therapies for advanced cancer
- Managing symptoms of advanced cancer
- Problems grouped by where the cancer is
- What should you ask your doctor about your cancer?
- Coping with advanced cancer
- Sources of support
- Choices for palliative care
- Advance directives
- Additional resources for advanced cancer
- References: Advanced cancer
What is advanced cancer?
Not all health professionals may use the term advanced cancer to mean the exact same thing. When we refer to advanced cancer here, we are talking about cancers that cannot be cured.
Advanced cancers have usually spread from where they started to other parts of the body. This is known as metastatic cancer. But not all advanced cancers are metastatic. For example, some cancers that start in the brain may be considered advanced because they are not curable and are life-threatening even though they have not spread to other parts of the body.
In the same way, not all metastatic cancers are advanced cancers. Some cancers, such as testicular cancer, may spread to other parts of the body but may still be very curable. For more on metastatic cancer, see the section called “What is metastatic cancer?”
Another term you may hear is locally advanced cancer. This is used to describe cancer that has grown outside of the organ it started in but has not yet spread to distant parts of the body. Some of these cancers may be "advanced" as we are using the term in this document. For example, locally advanced pancreatic cancer is often not curable. But other locally advanced cancers, such as some prostate cancers, may be cured.
If you or a loved one are told that you have advanced cancer, it is very important to find out exactly what the doctor means. Some may use the term to describe metastatic cancer, while others might use it in different situations. Be sure you understand what the doctor is referring to.
Advanced cancer can often be treated. Even if the cancer cannot be cured, treatment can sometimes shrink the cancer or slow its growth, help relieve symptoms, and help you live longer. Some people can live for many years with advanced cancer.
Every person's cancer is unique. Your cancer may respond differently to treatments and grow at a rate different from the same type of cancer in someone else. For some people, the cancer may already be advanced when they first learn they have the disease. For others, the cancer may not become advanced until some time after it is first diagnosed.
As advanced cancer grows, it can cause symptoms that may require treatment to help control them. These symptoms can almost always be treated, even when the cancer itself is no longer responding to treatment.
What is recurrent cancer?
Recurrence is a medical word that means that the cancer has come back in a patient who was thought to be cancer-free (in remission) after treatment. Cancer can come back:
- In or near the same place it started – this is called local recurrence.
- In lymph nodes near the original site of the cancer – this is called regional recurrence.
- In distant parts of the body – this is called distant or metastatic recurrence.
Recurrent cancer is often harder to treat than the original cancer, but it is not always advanced cancer. For example, a small cancer that was initially treated with surgery and recurs locally (comes back in the same area) can sometimes be treated or even cured with more surgery. Cancers that recur farther away from the original cancer site are more likely to be advanced cancers.
Last Medical Review: 07/17/2012
Last Revised: 07/17/2012