Caring for someone with advanced cancer

If your loved one is diagnosed with advanced cancer, it means that a cure is no longer possible. Instead treatment is to keep the cancer under control and relieve any symptoms.

Being diagnosed with advanced cancer doesnt necessarily mean that your loved one will die soon. Some people live for a long time with advanced cancer.

The type of care your loved one needs will depend on how their cancer is affecting them. Our webapges on advanced cancer have lots of information on the physical and emotional effects of advanced cancer, and where to get support.

What kind of care will be needed?

Emotional support

Some people with advanced cancer will need very little practical support, especially early on in their illness or if their cancer is not affecting their daily lives too much. But they may need emotional support and a listening ear to try to come to terms with their diagnosis.

You might find our booklets Lost for Words - How to Talk to Someone with Cancer and Understanding the Emotional Effects of Cancer useful if you are giving emotional support to someone with advanced cancer.

Your loved one may also be worried about what will happen later on in their illness. Our section on planning ahead has more information on making medical, legal and practical arrangements.

Medical support

Advanced cancer can cause side-effects that can be distressing and affect day-to-day life. For example, breathlessness, fatigue or pain. Find out more about possible side-effects of advanced cancer.

Ways that you can help to support with medical care

  • Learn about the causes of side-effects and the treatments that are available. This can help you to reassure your loved one and support them in getting the medical care that they need.
  • Encourage your loved one to tell their medical team about any side-effects so that they can get help
  • Attend appointments with them so that the doctor can spot and treat any problems
  • Make sure they take any medications they are prescribed
  • Ask your GP or hospital team about how to get palliative care support. The palliative care team are experts at managing the symptoms of advanced cancer.

Palliative care

Palliative care is care given to patients to improve their symptoms and quality of life. Many people are frightened when they hear the word 'palliative' because they think this means the patient will die soon. Palliative care does include end-of-life care, but it is not just for people at the end of their lives. The palliative care team are experts in helping patients and their loved ones cope with the emotional and physical effects of advanced cancer.

It's a good idea to ask about palliative care early on. Having the palliative care team involved early can mean symptoms are better controlled and potential problems kept in check. It also means you will have extra support at this difficult time. Learn more about palliative care.

End-of-life care

As a carer, you may need to give end-of-life care to your loved one. This may be very difficult for you, both emotionally and practically.

It is hard to give end-of-life care on your own. Try to connect with services that can give you support. Your GP is your first point of contact if your loved one needs care at home. Your GP can help you to organise the other services that you will need. For example, homecare nurses, the public health nurse and hospice care.

See our section on palliative care for information on end-of-life care, hospice care and details of the Irish Cancer Society night nursing service.

Our booklet, A Time to Care - Caring for a Loved One at Home, also has information and advice to support you. You can get a free copy at a Daffodil Centre or by calling our Cancer Nurseline on 1800 200 700.

Find out more

Visit our caring for someone with cancer section for more information on all aspects of caring.

Date Last Reviewed: 
Wednesday, April 6, 2016