Treatment for metastatic cancer

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Can metastatic cancer be cured?

Usually it’s not possible to cure metastatic cancer. Treatment aims to:

  • Keep the cancer under control, by shrinking the cancer or slowing its growth.
  • Help you feel better by improving side-effects and symptoms.

How effective are treatments for metastatic cancer?

Treatments have developed in recent years. Researchers now understand better how many cancers grow and spread. New treatments are being developed all the time and existing therapies are being used in new ways. Clinical trials and research projects are ongoing – aiming to help slow the growth of cancer and prevent it from spreading.

You may have a number of treatment options. Often there is a range of treatments that your doctor can use, so if one doesn’t work for your cancer, or stops working, there may be another option to try.

Treatment can help your side-effects. If your cancer has stopped responding to treatment and continues to grow, treatment can still control the side-effects in many cases and provide you with a much better quality of life, for longer.

Many people live with metastatic cancer and people are living longer now than ever before.

Will I get side-effects?

You may get side-effects from your treatment or from the cancer itself. 

If you have any symptoms that are troubling you, let your doctor or nurse know straight away. There are treatments to help with most side-effects and symptoms.

We have more information on coping with cancer side-effects and symptoms.

There is no single treatment for metastatic cancer. The choice of treatment will depend on:

  • Where the cancer started
  • How much it has spread
  • Where it has spread to
  • What treatment you’ve already had
  • Any genetic changes in your cancer cells that might make them respond well to particular treatments
  • Your general health and how well you could tolerate further treatment

Some people live with metastatic cancer for a long time. You will most likely have lots of appointments to see how you are doing and check if you need a different treatment.

Treatment options for metastatic cancer include:

Image of a patient undergoing brachytherapy radiotherapy


Uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells. It may be given to shrink large tumours that are causing pain or other problems. Radiotherapy may help if the cancer has spread to your bone, skin, lymph nodes or parts of your brain. It is a localised treatment which means it only treats the area of your body that it is aimed at. More about radiotherapy.

Woman taking a pill


Uses drugs to control cancer cells. The aim of chemotherapy for metastatic cancer is to slow down or stop the growth of the cancer. The benefits from chemotherapy treatment can sometimes last for years. More about chemotherapy

Doctor looking at x ray CT scan

Targeted therapies

Treatments that target cancer cells in different ways to stop or slow down their growth. Read more about targeted therapies.



This may be an option if you have a tumour somewhere in the body that is causing significant symptoms and can easily be removed. The surgery may not remove all the cancer from the body, but it can make you feel better if it is causing you pain or discomfort.

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Palliative care

Treatment designed to relieve your symptoms and give you the best possible quality of life. For example, palliative radiotherapy can help to relieve some types of pain. Find out more information on palliative care.

Complementary therapies

Complementary therapies are treatments given along with usual medical treatment. They may help you to cope better with side-effects and if you’re feeling anxious.

Talk to your doctor if you are thinking about using complementary or alternative therapies. We have more information on complementary therapies.

Deciding on treatment

There can be a lot to think about when you are making a decision about treatment for metastatic cancer. It can be hard to decide what the right choice is for you, to give you the best results and quality of life.

Take your time

You may feel under pressure to make a decision. You may want more time to think things through. But remember there is always time for you to consider what sort of treatment you want.

Ask questions

  • What are my treatment choices?
  • Which treatment do you recommend, and why?
  • What is the aim of the treatment – to cure the cancer, to help me live longer, or to relieve or prevent symptoms of the cancer?
  • What are the chances that the treatment will be helpful? 
  • What side-effects are likely to result from the treatment(s) you recommend? What can I do to help reduce these side-effects?
  • If this treatment doesn’t work or makes me feel sick, what are my other options?
  • Would a second opinion be helpful to me? Where can I get a second opinion before I start treatment?
  • What would happen if I decided I do not want any more treatment?

Make sure you understand

Don’t be afraid to ask your doctor or nurse if you need to have anything explained again.

You can also call the Irish Cancer Society Support Line on 1800 200 700 or visit a Daffodil Centre to talk to one of our specialist nurses.

Second opinion

Some people find it reassuring to have another medical opinion to help decide about treatment. Some people feel uncomfortable asking their specialist for a second opinion, but doctors are used to patients doing this.

Your treating doctor or GP can refer you to another specialist if you feel this would be helpful. It may help you to feel more confident about your decision, knowing that you have looked at all your options. We have more information on getting a second opinion.

Asking about life expectancy (prognosis)

No one knows how long anybody will live, but with metastatic cancer your life may be shorter than if the cancer had not spread. 

If you know that your cancer cannot be cured, it is natural to think about how long you might live. If you have questions about what will happen next or how long you will live, we have more information on asking about your prognosis (the likely outcome of your illness).

For more information

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1800 200 700

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