Advanced cancer

Introduction

This information may be useful if your cancer is advanced and you are looking for information and support.

How cancer spreads

Sometimes, cells move away from the original (primary) cancer through the blood or lymphatic system and invade other organs. When cancer spreads from the place where it first grew to other parts of the body it is known as secondary, metastatic cancer or advanced cancer.

Living well with advanced cancer

Treatment offered to people with advanced cancer is used to control the growth and spread of the cancer, relieve any symptoms you may have, and improve or maintain your quality of life. While advanced cancer is unlikely to be curable, new treatments are being developed and many people live well with advanced cancer for a longer time.

“ Working to maintain quality of life during advanced cancer has enabled me to continue to be active in areas that are important to me. Achieving things I always wanted to achieve." Phil 

Advanced cancer terms

Knowing more about a type of cancer can help make sense of symptoms and the treatments that may be offered. When a cancer spreads from a primary site, for example, prostate cancer to the bones, it is called secondary, metastatic, or advanced prostate cancer. The cells that make up the tumour in that bone are prostate cancer cells. Your doctor will still call it prostate cancer. This is very different from having primary bone cancer.

The difference between primary and secondary cancer

The difference between primary and secondary cancer is important for treatment. The treatment for secondary prostate cancer in the bone is designed to treat prostate cancer, while the treatment for primary bone cancer is designed to treat bone cancer.

If a primary cancer can be found, this helps doctors to decide what treatment to recommend. However, if a primary cancer can’t be found, doctors can still recommend particular treatments. For example, if the cancer is only in one area, it might be treated with an operation or with radiation. If the cancer has spread to several areas of the body, generally, chemotherapy is recommended.

Cancer of an unknown primary

Sometimes cancer is found to have spread without us knowing where it started from (the primary site). Because doctors don’t know where the cancer comes from, these cancers are difficult to treat. This page explains more about cancer of an unknown primary.